My Deep Disappointment in “Christianity Today”

Christianity Today (CT) is doubtless the most influential media outlet within Christianity (The 700 Club notwithstanding), but it regularly proves that its point-of-view is decidedly political and of the right-wing, evangelical variety. Would that it would define itself as such, for the world view it promulgates often drifts over into false witness, and readers need to understand that CT is a long way from “thus saith the Lord.”

Founded by Billy Graham, it defines itself as follows:

Since 1956, Christianity Today has been a trusted beacon spotlighting the way in which Christians can live gospel lives for the strengthening of church and society.

Christianity Today consistently demonstrates through all its media how the true, good, and beautiful gospel can not only transform lives but bring hope and flourishing to individuals, cultures, and communities.

This movement now directly reaches over five million Christian leaders every month.

Christianity Today advocates for the church, shapes the evangelical conversation, brings important issues to the forefront, and provides practical solutions for church leaders.

Time and again, CT proves its anti-ecumenism bias and its rooting for the haves (always remember that ministries need those big contributions) in what is represented as “strengthening” society. Even when articles are offered that seem to present the opposite, a careful reading reveals they are always selling their politically conservative point-of-view. This week for example, Christianity Today provides an article about how Christians should respond to Palestinians with “Beyond the Nakba: 7 Ways Christians Can Affirm a Positive Future for Palestinians.” The subhead is “How to understand the “catastrophe” of 1948 and its impact on today’s Israel.” By using the word “Nakba” in its headline, the editors hope to show their understanding and empathy for the Palestinian people, but in the end, this is just another piece in support of the Zionist political narrative about the region.

Here are the “7 Ways:”

1) Recognize that it happened—and why. Sounds like a good start, but the “why” drifts a bit into propaganda (the Arabs started it).
2) Recognize the humanity of all Palestinians. Wow, this might really be good after all.
3) Recognize the Palestinians as a real people who deserve security and self-determination. Can I get an “Amen?”
4) Push back against demonization of the Jews. Wait, what? Where did that come from? I thought we were talking about the Palestinians.
5) Reject support for violence. This one seems hopeful, but it turns out to be about violence against the Israelis. I feel like I’ve been duped.
6) Support those seeking peace. Again, this is about supporting Israel’s view of peace.
7) Encourage a positive vision for the future. Here we have an apologetic for a view that doesn’t “negate” Israeli rule, saying, “It may be that the best response to the Nakba is to help Palestinians to move beyond it.” So there it is, Palestinians. Get over it already. That’s the sum total of Christian advice.

I guess what galls me the most is that here we have a document alleging advice for “Christians” on how they should approach “their Palestinian friends” about the “conflict” in the Middle East. Nowhere does it offer even a word about Israel’s behavior in the extra-judicial executions of Arabs that occur seemingly every day. Neither is there a word about the living conditions the Palestinians must endure, the ghettos and open-air prisons they are forced to call home, the severe restrictions on water and electricity, the expansion in the West Bank, or anything even remotely causal assigned to the Israelis regarding the conflict. In the narrative that Christianity Today embraces, Israel is always seen as defending themselves and Palestinians are always presented as aggressors holding some unjustified grudge against the good guys.

The Nakba isn’t something that can be assigned to the dustbin of history, for it is ongoing. For people who are commanded to judge righteous judgement, this so-called “Christian” article is hot off the press of evil. Why don’t we have the same “get over it” attitude with regards to the Holocaust? Yeah, it happened, but that was history, so just “move beyond it.” Can you see the sloppy thinking on display here? Well, Terry, you can’t compare the Nakba with the Holocaust. After all, one was genocide; the other just moving a few people out of the way, legally I might add. Right.

So what is our truly best response? To love them as we love ourselves. Get over it? Sounds like a typical right-wing plank in the platform of mischief towards the poor and disenfranchised.

And, remember, folks, the U.S. gives Israel $10 million every day, including weekends.

Jerusalem: Solomon’s Temple is Next

The Dome of the Rock with the Al Aqsa Mosque

There’s no need to rant on today about the U.S. opening its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. I’ve said all I can say about the foolishness of this policy change. Instead, I want to talk about a warning I published last year in the Huffington Post, for now that we’ve declared Jerusalem to be the Capital of Israel, next up is the destruction of the Al Aqsa Mosque and replacing it with a new Jewish temple on the location. News organizations will miss this, because that’s what they do in covering Israel, but it will not escape the thoughts of the evangelical far right who’ve been highly supportive of President Trump’s moving of the embassy.

The one thing certain about the embassy move is that it will increase the tension in the area, which these Christians view quietly as a good thing, because they believe it will hasten the return of Jesus. The more this view resonates with the mainstream of contemporary life in the United States, the greater the risk of all-out war – Armageddon – in the Middle East. And, every good and white evangelical knows how this will end. Or do they?

Chuck Colson nailed this conflict beautifully in the prologue of his book Kingdoms in Conflict (now God & Government). It’s a brilliant 30-page work of fiction from a man with deep knowledge of the inner workings of the White House. You can read the whole thing via the “Look Inside” link on Amazon. Here’s my summary, plus the pivotal scene.

The story is about an evangelical President of the United States who must make a decision about intervening as Israeli right-wingers begin to take over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In Colson’s story, President Shelby Hopkins is a Southern Baptist with roots in the far right of the party. As events begin to unfold, Colson describes a hastily called meeting with key members of Hopkins’ cabinet, including the Chief of Staff, the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Attorney General, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the national security advisor. His knowledge of the White House and how things work within make for a very real atmosphere of tension in the room.

The Soviet army had invaded Iran and now came word that a small Jewish sect known as Tehiya led by the radical Yosef Tzuria who believed God had given all of the Holy Land to the Zionists. His “plan” was to blow up the Dome of the Rock and rebuild the temple of Solomon in its place. At the meeting, after discussions among the gathered about how destruction of the Dome of the Rock would mean war, the president, who had been silent until this point in Colson’s story, says in reference to providence, “Gentlemen, we must keep in mind the very real possibility that this situation is beyond us all.” The fictional president is suggesting that God Almighty is directing the path of humanity in this, and it throws a monkey wrench into conventional thinking about the conflict specifically and international relations in general. He refuses to act.

His staff, therefore, secretly initiates a plan without the president’s knowledge to send Marines to Jerusalem to protect the Dome of the Rock. It’s seen as an action against our greatest ally, Israel, and when he learns of the plan, it troubles the president deeply. The action was based on intelligence suggesting that Tehiya was about to take over the Israeli government, which would make matters much worse. The staff tries to bring the president to understand the necessity of action, but he responds to his close friend and Chief of Staff Larry Parrish, “You know, Larry, I can’t help thinking—this really could be the time. The generation that saw the Jews return to their homeland is about to pass. It almost has to happen soon. All that is left is for the Temple to be built. That’s the last big sign before—.”

In a private discussion, the President and his Chief of Staff talk about the history they’re about to make:

“Larry, don’t ‘yessir’ me. Say what’s on your mind.”

“I don’t know what’s on my mind, Mr. President. Frankly, sir, you’re scaring me to death.”

“You mean that, don’t you, Larry?” The president stood, half turned away, then whirled back to face him, “I didn’t think anything could ruffle you. Tell me why.”

“I don’t know how to explain it, if you can’t see it for yourself, sir.” Parrish replied. “You’re responsible for hundreds of millions of lives, including mine, including my wife and kids. And you seem to be guiding us by some obscure, kooky theory about the end of the world.”

“What if that obscure, kooky theory happens to be true?”

“I’m happy to leave that decision up to God. The end of the world is His business. Our business here in the White House is to prevent the end of the world.”

“Well, according to my theology, Larry, the end of the world – “

Parrish interrupted, something he never would have done had he not been deeply distressed. “Your theology is irrelevant right now! You weren’t elected to be the nation’s theologian.”

The staff convinces the President to send a harsh letter to Israeli Prime Minister Moshe Arens, but Hopkins refuses to bully the man. They then receive word that Prime Minister Arens and Tehiya’s Tzuria have reached an agreement. Larry Parrish addresses the President:

“They (the American people) trust you. You can’t betray them.”

“But I only avoid that if I keep trust with God.”

“Then keep us out of a war! Surely God did not put you here to cheer on the Israelis while they blunder into World War Three. Harrell has information that Tzuria and Arens have reached an agreement. If we don’t stop them with our marines, they’ll destroy the mosque, probably within the next twenty-four hours. We have to move militarily or there’ll be war.”

“No,” Hopkins said vehemently. “I will not lift a hand against God’s chosen people.”

In the end, the Israeli’s destroy the Temple Mount, and the White House seems incapable of unity on a response. It is a helpless scenario, and Colson just leaves us there to contemplate the enormity and chaos of it all.

This entire story was Chuck Colson’s way of warning us that it would be extremely dangerous for an Evangelical with a prophetic, apocalyptic perspective on world events to be in the White House. While Donald Trump himself isn’t such a man, he is certainly surrounded by such. The Christian “leaders” who met, “laid hands on,” and prayed with President Trump are generally of the same mind, as noted by Vox Magazine:

“By appealing not just to his evangelical base but to a theological, even apocalyptic reading of history, and Trump’s role in it, Trump is not merely legitimizing alternative facts but, more dangerously, writing alternative sacred history. He is cast a religious martyr, or someone who, though assailed on (in their view, bogus) legal or circumstantial grounds will be vindicated through divine favor.”

Colson’s 30-year old book is excellent, but that prologue is chilling, because we’re witnessing events in a highly right-wing Israel today that are eerily similar. It’s a time in history when we MUST pay close attention to everything and without the view that Israel can do no wrong. The U.S. provides the Netanyahu government with $10 million in aid every single day, and despite our wishes to the contrary, Israel continues forcing its aggressive settlement plans in the West Bank.

Trust me on this. Solomon’s Temple is next.

What the white Evangelicals really want

U.S. News & World Report photo

It’s all about abortion. Everything we’re witnessing with the Presidency of Donald Trump and his fervent – almost fanatical – support from white Evangelicals is, in the end, about abortion. You can add prayer in schools and display of the Ten Commandments, but the biggie is abortion. These issues have in common one thing – they became issues due to Supreme Court rulings – and the possibility of “fixing” these decisions through a more conservative Supreme Court is what allows certain Christians to look the other way through everything else about Trump, his character, and his dictatorial management of the government.

The “think” is that God put Trump in office, so that decades of cultural shifting to the left can be corrected. It’s a trap, an illusion seized by perhaps well-intended and exasperated people who long for what they think were better days. In their zeal to this end, they’ve become pawns in a bait and switch effort by the haves to seize the moment for themselves.

Here’s a simple description of what the (mostly white) Evangelicals want from a very good BBC report on the matter:

For decades the US Supreme Court – America’s highest legal authority – has been finely politically balanced. “The Nine” include four liberal voices, four conservatives, and one swing vote.

The idea, of course, is that changing the ideology of the high court will change the culture for at least a generation, but this is a very deceptive perspective. That’s because the underlying issue is the concept of case law, where legal precedents established through court decisions actually become law. Conservatives like to use the phrase “strict Constitutionalist” as a litmus test for court appointees. It’s a euphemism for “legislators make laws, not judges,” and while an argument can be made that case law isn’t in the U.S. Constitution, it doesn’t follow that our judicial system will ever rule against the idea that precedent is a factor in the judging of cases. And as long as our legislative bodies are dominated by lawyers, it’s nearly impossible to achieve any change through legislation. A conservative lawyer, after all, is still a lawyer. Never forget that.

Another phrase that conservatives use is “legislating from the bench,” which is just another way of saying the judicial system should not be “making” law. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

So, if judges shouldn’t be making law through precedent, what is their alternative? I got a deep education on this from Pat Robertson and the faculty of CBN University’s law school during my time as producer of The 700 Club in the 1980s. The alternative is that courts only make rulings on the individual cases before them and that no precedent ruling can be considered. Verdicts are decided on the merits of the case, period. If the issue is so important as to require the creation of law, then that is a matter for our legislative bodies, for they are our elected representatives, according to the Constitution.

However – and here’s where it gets a little nuts – if this is the basis for their argument, then why the need to shift the ideology of the court? After all, if rulings are limited only to the cases before them, then why worry about their ideological make-up influencing culture? Could it be that abortion is merely an emotional appeal for conservatives who wish really to influence culture on behalf of their true beneficiaries, the haves who control everything in the first place? Donald Trump has not influenced the outcomes of the high court, but he certainly has done well for the billionaires who dwell in the high places.

Nathaniel Rachman of the Oxford student paper, OxStu, published an insightful piece with the headline “The spectre of a conservative Supreme Court is a fantasy,” in which he notes that the ideology of the court has had little to do with the important issues that conservatives want fixed anyway:

Even if the court’s judges remain solidly conservative however, they can still produce the occasional surprising decision. Clarence Thomas, the court’s most fanatical conservative, recently helped strike down an attempt to suppress black voters in North Carolina, while Neil Gorsuch is now facing Trump’s criticism after rescuing the liberal justices in their attempts to strike down a vague immigration law. Sometimes such defections can be transformative; when Obamacare, the central prop to the US healthcare system seemed fatally threatened, the Chief Justice John Roberts saved it, and when the court found a fundamental right to same-sex marriage, it was Anthony Kennedy who authored the 5-4 opinion. Roberts’ court is concerned with how the world looks upon it, and the chief justice is keenly aware of the shadow of history looming over him. The reputation of his bench is vital to him. Even if Trump appoints a consistent hardliner, he has no guarantee that the rest of the court would not shift in response, fearing a legacy that will go down in infamy.

This is the problem when ideology attempts to shift the culture through managing it from the top. The culture isn’t shifted by ideology; it’s shifted by people and the energy of their social movements. Therefore, issues eventually finding their way to the high court isn’t by chance, and it’s nowhere near as simple as the right wants to make it sound.

Besides, as I’ve written before, abortion is really about sex and the Biblical position that fornication is sin. We have to be honest about this, for we always have to “play the tape to its end” when considering issues such as abortion. What would be the Evangelicals’ view of how people “should” behave in a world without legal abortion? I think we all know the answer to that. Moreover, anti-abortion law becomes harder and harder as the evidence mounts about how birth control reduces the abortion rate. Our current rate is now BELOW what it was in 1973, when it was made legal by the high court.

My daughter is about to pop with baby number three, and we’re all pretty excited about it. This is especially so after her experience with baby number two, who died of severe birth defects six hours after birth. She learned of the birth defects at 20 weeks and went through this despite the knowledge that she “could have” gotten an abortion. She made the decision – the choice – for herself not to do so, and it was remarkable to witness. For her, it was a moral issue, not a legal one, and she could not have made such a decision for herself, had abortion been illegal. This experience has firmed my resolve that the Supreme Court got it right with Roe v Wade.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I strongly recommend you read the linked materials.

Postmodern Fame

Mean Mary James, a terrific talent you’ve probably never heard of. She makes it in the new world through a deep connection with her fans.

In the mass marketing world, fame is determined by many things, but perhaps the most important is the size of the audience one can grow or the amount of money one can make in so doing. The two are inexorably connected, and this fits nicely with the processes and systems of modernism. Logically, it’s possible to create wealth by accumulating a mass audience that will directly purchase products or allow their eyes to be exposed to advertisements from third-parties. Whether it’s a stadium concert or an Instagram following, this is the historical path to fame.

It’s in this light that a recent Bloomberg story can make the claim, “‘Success’ on YouTube Still Means a Life of Poverty.”

New research out of Germany billed as among the first to review the chances of making it in the new Hollywood shows a vanishingly small number will ever break through—just like in the old Hollywood.

In fact, 96.5 percent of all of those trying to become YouTubers won’t make enough money off of advertising to crack the U.S. poverty line, according to research by Mathias Bärtl, a professor at Offenburg University of Applied Sciences in Offenburg.

Breaking into the top 3 percent of most-viewed channels could bring in advertising revenue of about $16,800 a year, Bärtl found in an analysis for Bloomberg News.

The article goes on to say that “One in 3 British children age 6 to 17 told pollsters last year that they wanted to become a full-time YouTuber. That’s three times as many as those who wanted to become a doctor or a nurse.” This is all based on the fame=wealth paradigm of mass media, and it’s a losing formula in today’s age for two reasons. One, as a business model, mass media is hanging on by a thread. Targeting has replaced it in an effort to overcome Wanamaker’s dilemma of half his marketing budget going to waste on the assumption that his customers would be a part of the crowd. Two, the web is a miracle of horizontal connectivity, and new models for the arts are being developed regularly. A big part of the problem is our addiction to formulas in the West. The whole system is corrupt and serves the few, and there simply is no process that’ll replace hard work and interaction.

I’ve written before about Kevin Kelly’s brilliant “1,000 true fans,” and that model is being exploited by entrepreneurs who sense opportunity. To all makers of content, hear this: scarcity cannot be assumed in an age when anybody can make content, and if that’s the case, then your content must be used in other ways to make money. Patreon is a brilliant website designed to help creatives make money through the support of fans – even Kelly’s “True Fans.” In this way, support for artistic endeavors is garnered without directly selling the products being created. Patreon’s software does all the heavy lifting, but smart creators (or their business managers) have the tools to work with those supporters in making their experience worthwhile. According to Wikipedia:

Patreon is a membership platform that provides business tools for creators to run a subscription content service, as well as ways for artists to build relationships and provide exclusive experiences to their subscribers, or “patrons.”

Websites like Concert Window or StageIt provide artists with a way to interact with fans while performing from anywhere, including their own living rooms. There’s a suggested “offering” for participation, and artists can provide prizes for the biggest concert donor. It’s a great way to promote anything and to please those 1,000 true fans.

People (and institutions) will always support the arts, and we have to get it out of our heads that there’s only one way to do that. The lure of Kardashianesque stardom tugs at the egos of many, but isn’t it really about living a reasonable lifestyle while using the gifts we’ve been given to share with others? So what if a second job is required for a season? The passion to share what’s within is driving change as the Great Horizontal presses onward.

Let us not despise the day of small beginnings.

The Horizontal Church

Chris Justice, Pastor Lee Park Church

The future of Christianity will include communities of believers meeting online in what I call the Horizontal Church, meaning that the connection of these people is sideways instead of top-down. On Sunday, I participated in what may have been a first, the taking of communion via an online connection with Lee Park Church in Monroe, North Carolina. The church is pastored by my old co-worker Chris Justice, and I “attend” services there via Facebook live streaming. This isn’t what I imagine fully as horizontal, because the event originated at Chris’s pulpit and spread out to many, but it was still a noteworthy exercise.

I participated in the parking lot of a neighborhood Kroger store via my Android phone. Can you imagine? I took communion using the same waver and grape juice kit that parishioners inside the church used. I prepared my heart, ate the bread, and drank the cup just as scripture teaches, in my car in jeans and a t-shirt, out in the middle of the world. The church had mailed me the elements ahead of time, as it did others who chose to participate remotely. The only thing I didn’t do was leave an offering, but that’s easily fixable.

If Lee Park Church continues as I think it will, it could easily become a super church via online participation. They have everything necessary: a preacher who used to be a TV News anchor and who delivers sermons with a homespun humor that is quite magnetic, a world class band and choir with excellent leadership, and now viewers can actually participate in one of the most important sacraments of the church. This is only the beginning. The technology exists to do weddings, baptisms, funerals, and just about anything else we can imagine.

Remember that what the web does best is connect people, and that connection is sideways. The web redefines the word “community,” both to the betterment and detriment of geographical communities. Who needs class reunions anymore when high school friends stay connected regardless of geography? The web will bring the world together, no matter how many bumps and potholes we discover on the road from here to there. Just look at what young people were able to accomplish this weekend using social media to organize marches to protest the inaction of our government regarding mass killings at places where young people gather, including our schools.

There’s no doubt that America is divided right now and that the world is a very dangerous place. I remain optimistic, because I feel that we have to get through this as a people, or we’ll never reach our full potential. When life senses that something is wrong, it will force us to deal with it over and over until we get it right. The church’s role here could be unique in driving people together, but we must first get over ourselves and a gospel that only divides. A church that represents the haves and doesn’t place a premium on the care of the poor and the afflicted is, in fact, a big part of the problem. This is reflected in the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup, and it was for such that Christ paid the price of the cross.

Again, welcome to the dawn of the postmodern age.

The Underlying Fallacy of Fake News

Courtesy Austin Schmid

A vast wave of intellectual dishonestly is cresting above us in the argument about fake news. That it is actually taken seriously by the press is perhaps the most dangerous event of the postmodern era, and each day I pray that somebody important will say, “Stop!” My voice simply isn’t big enough for this to be heard, so somebody else is going to have to have the revelation.

Let me repeat what I’ve said in my book The Gospel of Self: there is no such thing as a right-wing press, because it was birthed, nurtured and remains a conduit for conservative political propaganda. For it to be recognized as legitimate, albeit alternative members of the press, it would have to make a solid case that the press is itself a conduit for liberal political propaganda, and that is a specious argument. “The news” by definition is progressive, because it consists of thoughts and activities that are new. There is no such thing as “the olds,” which is what we could expect from a conservative “press,” if such a thing were even possible. “Conservative press” is an oxymoron and as such presents a false logic. The press must at least make an ethical effort at fairness or as we used to say objectivity. This takes it outside the political process, while those claiming the status of a point-of-view news entity are just the opposite.

Political point-of-view journalism can’t be both.

An intellectually honest press would not even try to defend the accusations of liberal bias, which are, again, propaganda from the right. For, in defending itself, the press is agreeing that the argument needs defending. This has academia and the other intelligent institutions of the West reeling in a battle of cosmic consequences that can’t possibly end well for the cause of freedom. Are you hearing me? The mere suggestion that the press needs a conservative alternative, because the press pursues a liberal political agenda is foolishness gone to seed. It’s a dangerous fallacy, people, and we feed it by adopting its narrative.

Remember, I was there when we at CBN promoted ourselves as an entity of point-of-view journalism. WE made the claim and assigned ourselves a position within the mainstream – but to the right – because we presented “the news” with a conservative agenda. So WE, by behaving from a point-of-view, convinced our followers and those to come that even though we had an admitted bias, we still belonged on the same societal plane as the rest of the press. This may be a very slick justification, but it’s still blatantly false.

The professional press has been striving for a sense of fairness or objectivity within the news for at least the past century. As historian Chris Lasch brilliantly argues, this shift was motivated by economics, for advertisers wanted a sterile environment within which to present their ads. Nothing has changed about that, although advertising itself is now again shifting due to new challenges that are irrelevant to this discussion. The point is that the mainstream press may have begun with a great many personal biases, but the modern professional press is represented by ethical guidelines that don’t allow for political propaganda from any so-called “side” in the debate of political matters. That belongs on the editorial page or in commentaries so labeled.

To some, perhaps even many, that sounds absurd. When I spoke of it to a group of very conservative voters last summer at a Colorado Springs book event, the gasp of disbelief was loud. I was ridiculed, scorned, and dismissed by people who were completely convinced of their own narrative. This is the degree to which the public – and now the press itself – has been deceived by propaganda masters now running Washington and beyond.

Think of me as crazy, naive, or whatever you’d like, but until we all begin honestly dissecting what’s taking place around us, we’re going to continue to be buffeted about by this wave. Nothing is to be gained by measuring the trustworthiness of individual news organizations, as is being promoted by New York entrepreneurs Steve Brill and L. Gordon Crovitz with their green, yellow, red guidance system. The right has already labeled Snopes as a player of the left, and it will do the same with ANY attempt to frame them as false or even biased.

Instead of moving deeper into this black hole, journalism needs to end its defensiveness and simply do its job. Tell it like it is and not couched in mushy language designed not to offend conservatives.