Category Archives: Religion

Roy Moore lost because most Christians are better than the Bible

I’ve said before that the alleged behavior of Alabama Senate Candidate Roy “10 Commandments” Moore toward teenage girls was perfectly biblical. I’ll stand by that, citing chapter and verse.  (Other Christians or former Christians have made similar observations.) The Bible is a mishmash of texts that were written and assembled over the course of several hundred years by men with varied objectives. All manner of behavior and misbehavior can be and has been justified from the contradictory stories and commandments between its covers. Men like Roy Moore who think they speak for God, who think their end justifies any means, play this to their own advantage.

Moore rides horse to vote in Alabama Senate runoff
Image: Getty

Fortunately, most Christians are better than that. Where the Bible contradicts itself or endorses archaic cruelties or tribal thinking, their own conscience guides them toward something higher. Since the Iron Age, when most of the Bible texts were written, humanity has gotten clearer about kindness and justice and how people in power should behave toward those who are less powerful. We have evolved a more expansive view of who deserves to be treated according to the Golden Rule.

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Our ‘integrity is severely tarnished’: Christianity Today editor says ‘no one will believe a word we say’ after Alabama

The editor-in-chief of Christianity Today posted a provocative editorial that concludes “Christian faith” was the clear loser in the Alabama special election.

“No matter the outcome of today’s special election in Alabama for a coveted US Senate seat, there is already one loser: Christian faith. When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation,” the editorial explained. “Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.”

Democrat Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore in the special election.

The editorial noted the Alabama special election, “put an exclamation point on a problem that has been festering for a year and a half—ever since a core of strident conservative Christians began to cheer for Donald Trump without qualification and a chorus of other believers decried that support as immoral.”

“The Christian leaders who have excused, ignored, or justified his unscrupulous behavior and his indecent rhetoric have only given credence to their critics who accuse them of hypocrisy,” the editorial continued.

 “When a public Christian is accused of some immorality, the honorable and moral thing to do has been to take a leave of absence until the matter of settled,” Christianity Today noted. “This is precisely what Moore, who sees himself as a godly and moral candidate, has refused to do.”

The Republicanism of some evangelical Christians harms the gospel of Jesus, the editorial argued.

“When combative conservative Christians refuse to suffer patiently in the public square, retaliate when insults are hurled at them, and do not refrain from the appearance of evil, they sabotage not only their political cause but the cause they care about the most: the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Christianity Today concluded.

Read the powerful editorial.

By BOB BRIGHAM/RawStory

Posted by The NON-Conformist

GOP State Rep. Accused of Raping 17-Year-Old Sings Hymn Before Declaring: ‘No Reason I Would Resign’

It seems like every day a new media or political figure is accused of having committed some form of a sex crime. Oh wait, it is every day, sometimes multiple times in one day. Yipes.

Today’s contender in the “worst male in the world” contest is Kentucky Rep. Dan Johnson, who has been accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl at a New Year’s Eve party while he was acting as her preacher.

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The religious right has come out of the closet — and it is everything its worst critics claimed

There’s a certain satisfaction for those of us who came of age at the time of the Christian Right’s ascendancy to see such widespread acknowledgement of what many of us knew all along—that the so-called Christian Right was always a scam, a caustic combination of patriarchy and big money interests scamming the country behind an edifice of “family values” and “morals.”

It was, after all, Paul Weyrich, one of the founders of the Christian Right coalition, who admitted that it was much easier to get folks ginned up about tax cuts for the rich if you conflated them with moral issues like abortion and “scare” issues like crime and gun control.

The ultimate denouement came with publication of a poll that found that nearly three-quarters of evangelicals are now OK with a politician with personally compromised morality, up from just 30 percent five years ago, a convenient twisting of moral perspectives to fit the exigencies of Trump. It seems that one can be sinner in their personal life as long as they promise to appoint anti-abortion judges to the Supreme Court.

But now, even conservatives have to admit the Christian Right is everything its worst critics claimed it was. Here’s Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post:

For years, Democrats accused Christian conservatives of being closet theocrats, seeking to impose Christianity on the country and refusing to accept, let alone embrace, American diversity. That was a generalization, but it turned out to be more true than not.
She quotes Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute as noting:

One of the most astounding shifts in modern politics has been the utter transformation of white evangelical Protestants from being confident self-described ‘values voters,’ who measured candidates for office against a high bar of moral character, to anxious and unwavering Trump supporters who have largely dropped these standards for a candidate they believe will deliver policies that benefit them.

But it’s easy to argue that that concern about “high moral character” was always a veneer over political expediency because “moral character” was so thoroughly fused with two issues: opposition to abortion and, later, same-sex marriage.

The result is a shape-shifting political animal described brilliantly by Jane Mayer in her New Yorkerprofile of Mike Pence, a man animated equally by political ambition and a quest to restore his particular vision of morality, which looks more like patriarchy—women who know their place (not out alone with men), reproductive control by the state in the form of illegal abortion, and the re-marginalization of gay people—fused with the big-money interests of the Koch brothers.

Pence, Mayer reports, was on the board of a far-right policy organization called the Indiana Family Institute that “supported the criminalization of abortion and campaigned against equal rights for homosexuals,” and argued that “unmarried women should be denied access to birth control.”

In fact, Mayer quotes one of Pence’s political opponents in the Indiana state legislature as saying, “What these people are really after is contraceptives.” She asserted that Pence’s real goal was to “reverse women’s economic and political advances.”

But Pence faltered in his political ambitions, stumbling over the signing and then the reversal of Indiana’s controversial “religious freedom” law. Nearly broke, with a dim political future, his career, and his mission, was salvaged by the most unlikely of saviors: the thrice-married self-admitted groper Donald Trump, a man depraved in both personal and political morality. It’s hard to imagine any self-professed serious Christian such as Pence even considering a place on the Trump ticket, but when it was offered, he didn’t think twice, yoking the Christian Right to Trump in exchange for a promise to appoint conservative judges and let the right have it’s way with anti-abortion legislation.

While publicly Trump presented himself as an ally of the religious right, in private Mayer reports he gleefully mocked their most dearly held goal—banning abortion:

During a meeting with a legal scholar, Trump belittled Pence’s determination to overturn Roe v. Wade. The legal scholar had said that, if the Supreme Court did so, many states would likely legalize abortion on their own. “You see?” Trump asked Pence. “You’ve wasted all this time and energy on it, and it’s not going to end abortion anyway.”
And now the Christian Right has made clear what it gave away in this devil’s bargain—any last shred of a legitimate claim to moral leadership with, as Michael Gerson wrote in the Post, its embrace of “angry ethnonationalism and racial demagoguery”:

At the Family Research Council’s recent Values Voter Summit, the religious right effectively declared its conversion to Trumpism. … There is no group in the United States less attached to its own ideals or more eager for its own exploitation than religious conservatives. Forget Augustine and Aquinas, Wilberforce and Shaftesbury. For many years, leaders of the religious right exactly conformed Christian social teaching to the contours of Fox News evening programming. Now, according to Bannon, “economic nationalism” is the “centerpiece of value voters.” I had thought the centerpiece was a vision of human dignity rooted in faith. But never mind. Evidently the Christian approach to social justice is miraculously identical to 1930s Republican protectionism, isolationism and nativism.

The once-proud Religious Right, which bullied the country—and the often-cowed Democratic Party—with its claims of moral superiority and family values is now “a pitiful appendage” to the “squalid” Bannon–Trump agenda, “seeking preference and advancement from a strongman.”

In a last, desperate gamble for power, to ban abortion and put gays back in the closet, the “Christian” Right has shed any pretense of Christianity. Whatever moral authority it had is now gone. The Christian Right is dead; long live the Trump-Bannon-ethno-nationalist right.

PATRICIA MILLER/RELIGION DISPATCHES

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How a growing Christian movement is seeking to take control of the top sectors of American society

Last week, from Oct. 6 to 9, the National Mall in Washington, D.C. was filled with tents, worship music and prayer for the “Awaken the Dawn” rally. The purpose of the event, according to organizer Lou Engle, was to “gather around Jesus,” to pray for the nation and its government. It ended with a day of prayer by Christian women.

This wasn’t the first such event. On April 9, 2016, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, tens of thousands of people gathered to pray for the supernatural transformation of America.

Five years earlier, in August of 2011, more than 30,000 people cheered wildly as the then U.S. presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry – now secretary of energy in the Trump administration – came to the center stage at “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis” at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

These three events and the leaders who organized them are central players in a movement that we call “Independent Network Charismatic,” or INC, Christianity in our recently released book, “The Rise of Network Christianity.”

Based on our research, we believe that INC Christianity is significantly changing the religious landscape in America – and its politics.

Here is what we found about INC

INC Christianity is led by a network of popular independent religious entrepreneurs, often referred to as “apostles.” They have close ties, we found, to conservative U.S. politicians, including Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and more recently President Donald Trump.

Charismatic Christians emphasize supernatural miracles and divine interventions. But INC Christianity is different from other charismatics – and other Christian denominations in general – in the following ways:

  • It is not focused primarily on building congregations but rather on spreading beliefs and practices through media, conferences and ministry schools.
  • It is not so much about proselytizing to unbelievers as it is about transforming society through placing Christian believers in powerful positions in all sectors of society.
  • It is organized as a network of independent leaders rather than as formally organized denominations.

INC Christianity is the fastest-growing Christian group in America and possibly around the world. Over the 40 years from 1970 to 2010, the number of regular attenders of Protestant churches as a whole shrunk by an average of .05 percent per year, which is a striking decline when one considers that the U.S. population grew an average of 1 percent per year during those years. At the same time, independent neo-charismatic congregations (a category in which INC groups reside) grew by an average of 3.24 percent per year.

Its impact, however, is much greater than can be measured in church attendance. This is because INC Christianity is not centrally concerned with building congregations, but spreading beliefs and practices.

The influence of INC Christianity can be seen in the millions of hits on many of theirweb-based media sites, large turnouts at stadium rallies and conferences, and millions of dollars in media sales. In our interviews with leaders, we found that Bethel, an INC ministry based in Redding, California, for example, in 2013 had an income of US$8.4 million in sales of music, books, DVDs and web-based content as well as $7 million in tuition to their Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.

Appeal of INC

As part of our research, we conducted in-depth interviews with senior leaders, staff and current and former participants in INC Christian ministries. We also conducted supplementary interviews with Christian leaders and scholars with knowledge of the changing religious landscape and attended conferences, numerous church services, ministry school sessions, healing sessions and exorcisms. In all, we conducted 41 in-depth interviews.

Our primary conclusion is that the growth of these groups is largely the result of their network governance structure. When compared to the oversight and accountability of formal congregations and denominations, these structures allow for more experimentation. This includes “extreme” experiences of the supernatural, unorthodox beliefs and practices, and financing as well as marketing techniques that leverage the power of the internet.

In our research, we witnessed the appeal of INC Christianity, particularly among young people. We saw the thrill of holding impromptu supernatural healing sessions in the emergency room of a large public hospital, the intrigue of ministry school class sessions devoted to the techniques of casting out demonic spirits and the adventure of teams of young people going out into public places, seeking direct guidance from God as to whom to heal or to relay specific divine messages.

‘Seven mountains of culture’

In addition to the growth numbers, the importance of INC Christianity lies in the fact that its proponents have a fundamentally different view of the relationship between the Christian faith and society than most Christian groups throughout American history.

Most Christian groups in America have seen the role of the Church as connecting individuals to God through the saving grace of Jesus and building congregations that provide communities of meaning and belonging through worship services. They also believe in serving and providing for the needs their local communities. Such traditional Christian groups believe that although the world can be improved, it will not be restored to God’s original plan until Jesus comes back again to rule the Earth.

INC beliefs, however, are different – their leaders are not content simply to connect individuals to God and grow congregations. Most INC Christian groups we studied seek to bring heaven or God’s intended perfect society to Earth by placing “kingdom-minded people” in powerful positions at the top of all sectors of society.

INC leaders have labeled them the “seven mountains of culture.”

These include business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family and religion. In this form of “trickle-down Christianity,” they believe if Christians rise to the top of all seven “mountains,” society will be completely transformed.

One INC leader we interviewed summed it up this way:

“The goal of this new movement is transforming social units like cities, ethnic groups, nations rather than individuals…if Christians permeate each mountain and rise to the top of all seven mountains…society would have biblical morality, people would live in harmony, there would be peace and not war, there would be no poverty.”

We heard these ideas repeatedly in most of our interviews, at events we attended and in INC media materials.

Most significantly, since the 2016 presidential election, some INC leaders have released public statements claiming that the Trump presidency is part of fulfilling God’s plan to “bring heaven to Earth” by placing believers in top posts, including Rick Perry; Betsy DeVos directing the Department of Education; and Ben Carson leading the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Changing the landscape

INC Christianity is a movement to watch because we think it will continue to draw adherents in large numbers in the future. It will produce a growing number of Christians who see their goal not just as saving souls but as transforming society by taking control over its institutions.

We see the likelihood of INC Christians taking over the “seven mountains of culture” as slim. However, we also believe that this movement is sure to shake up the religious and political landscape for generations to come.

By Brad Christerson, Richard Flory/RawStory

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Real Reason Evangelicals Have Made Trump Their New Messiah

An apostate believes the church is bent on overturning a landmark court decision.

Evangelical Christians have drawn ire since overwhelmingly supporting President Donald Trump during the 2016 election. But one former evangelical, who left the church, suggests they made a deal with the devil so they could get the legislation they’ve always wanted.

According to Guardian writer Josiah Hesse, Trump has “bragged about his sins and built a career on casinos and half-naked women,” but evangelicals saw him as an opportunity and agreed to mobilize their voting bloc in the churches to elect him.

“Evangelicals know he’s not a real Christian,” Hesse explained. “But they’re pragmatic about overturning Roe v. Wade, and generally agree with his economic plan of deregulation, lowering taxes and keeping undocumented immigrants out.”

It’s a philosophy rumored to have inspired congressional Republicans in making a deal with Trump.

“Many Republican members of Congress have made a Faustian bargain with Donald Trump,” wrote David Brooks for The New York Times shortly after Trump took office. “They don’t particularly admire him as a man, they don’t trust him as an administrator, they don’t agree with him on major issues, but they respect the grip he has on their voters, they hope he’ll sign their legislation and they certainly don’t want to be seen siding with the inflamed progressives or the hyperventilating media.”

Republicans saw the rare opportunity to have every single branch of government controlled by a single party — their party. Though, as Trump has begun attacking members of his own party, they’re starting to have buyer’s remorse. The evangelical community, however, is still hanging on, as Trump’s board of faith-based advisors has remained intact.

“I don’t think that he’s a believer, but he cares about evangelicals,” evangelical Christian and Trump supporter Jay Eike told Hesse. “The tweeting drives me crazy. But evangelicals think his policies are more important [than his behavior].”

The same story was true for former President Ronald Reagan, who became a messiah for evangelicals. Being the “reformed” sinner who came back to God also helped George W. Bush secure the image of a prodigal son the community should align themselves with.

Hesse argues that evangelicals like that Trump wants to “shake things up.” Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty University president, told ABC News he liked Trump because the president doesn’t cave to “political correctness.”

“For evangelicals, pissing off liberals and defending unpopular opinions makes him appear more like one of them,” Hesse explained. “What seems like an imploding presidency to some, appears as a heroic martyr against liberalism to others.”

He went on to quote Jesus, claiming, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.”

The more hated a person is, the nearer a Christian can be to God. Given his approval rating, Trump is getting closer and closer.

 By Sarah K. Burris/RawStory
Posted by The NON-Conformist

Houston Megachurch: We ‘Never Closed Our Doors’ To Those Displaced By Harvey

The Lakewood Church in Houston, a megachurch with a 16,800-seat arena where Joel Osteen serves as pastor, on Monday denied that it closed its doors to residents displaced by massive flooding after Hurricane Harvey made landfall last week.

“We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need,” church spokesman Donald Iloff told CNN. “We are prepared to shelter people once the cities and county shelters reach capacity.”

The church provided CNN with photographs of standing water in hallways and a parking lot.

BUT….

Image: Twitter

Iloff, who is televangelist pastor Joel Osteen’s father-in-law, said the church is scheduled to open around noon and will also serve as a donation center.

The church on Sunday posted on Facebook that it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding” and included a list of “safe shelters” in Houston as well as the National Guard rescue hotline.

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