Archive for May, 2018


Trump to Sign Faith-Based Initiative Order Giving White Evangelicals More Power

Trump tried to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which would have allowed pastors to tell their congregations who to vote for and turned churches into dark money conduits for politicians. He’s tried to ban transgender troops from the military on the guidance of evangelicals. He has nominated a steady stream of judges who cater to conservative Christian interests. He acted like saying “Merry Christmas” was now permissible even though it was never a problem.

And, of course, we know why he does that. White evangelicals remain the core of Trump’s base.

So today, on the National Day of Prayer (which is, oddly enough, a Christian-only event), Trump is signing a new executive order designed to give those evangelicals even more power.

Adelle M. Banks of Religion News Service has the scoop:

President Trump plans to unveil a new initiative that aims to give faith groups a stronger voice within the federal government and serve as a watchdog for government overreach on religious liberty issues.

He is scheduled to sign an executive order on Thursday (May 3), the National Day of Prayer, “to ensure that the faith-based and community organizations that form the bedrock of our society have strong advocates in the White House and throughout the Federal Government,” a White House document reads.

No. No no no. They don’t need a stronger voice in the government. They’re doing enough damage as is. We don’t need wannabe theocrats getting federal help in choosing all the ways they’re being fake-persecuted.To be fair, President Obama wasn’t terrific on these issues either. Instead of shutting down George W. Bush‘s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Obama expanded it with his Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It was well-intentioned but ultimately problematic.

Trump is now adding steroids to the mix with his White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.

There’s a secular argument to be made in support of this office. Most Americans are religious, believers are involved in a lot of public service efforts, and this is a way to coordinate some of those projects.

But we’ve seen what happens when Trump and his Christian clique gets together. They discriminate against religious minorities. They use their connections to push legislation that has no secular purpose. They pretend to be victims just because (gasp) Christian business owners might have to sell the same product to a gay person as a straight one.

Just look at the stated purpose of this office:

The White House said those working on the initiative will provide policy recommendations from faith-based and community programs on “more effective solutions to poverty,” and inform the administration of “any failures of the executive branch to comply with religious liberty protections under law.”

How the hell will these Christians tackle “poverty” and “religious liberty” when they’re working under a president who supports a Muslim ban and a Republican Congress that passed a bill giving tax breaks to billionaires instead of using the money to help lower and middle class people?

At best, I hope this office is a symbol. Because if they actually get more power, non-evangelicals will be screwed. It’s telling that, in the RNS article, not a single non-Christian was even cited in the piece. Will there be Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, etc. working on this initiative? (Should we even bother asking?)

Or will we just get more of the same from this White House, where “religious liberty” is synonymous with “special perks for white evangelicals”?

(Image via Shutterstock)

 

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The Scandal Tearing Apart America’s Largest Protestant Denomination

A denominational leader’s claim that abused women should remain in their broken marriages is forcing Southern Baptists to pick sides.

 

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Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson gestures as he makes his opening speech in 1999. John Bazemore / AP
Over the past 20 years, the Southern Baptist Convention has weathered an onslaught of controversies, from renaming the denomination to repudiating the Confederate flag. But in the end, all it took to potentially rend the organization in two was a single quote about domestic violence from a solitary leader that most Americans have never even heard of.Paige Patterson is the 75-year-old president of Fort Worth’s Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, which claims to be one of the largest schools of its kind in the world. He is lionized among Baptists for his role in the “conservative resurgence,” which is what some call the movement to oust theological liberals beginning in the 1970s. But this week, his past legacy and present credibility were called into question when a 2000 audio recording surfaced in which Patterson said he has counseled physically abused women to avoid divorce and to focus instead on praying for their violent husbands, and to “be submissive in every way that you can.”
Domestic-violence advocates quickly and unsurprisingly condemned the remarks, but, and as The Washington Post reported, it sent “leaders scrambling to respond.”Some notable SBC leaders echoed concerns about Patterson’s comments and whether he should step down. Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, a book-publishing house and retail chain that is owned by the SBC, released a statement denouncing domestic abuse and calling out Patterson by name. Ed Stetzer, a former Southern Baptist employee who is currently a professor at Wheaton College, penned an article for Christianity Today arguing that Patterson must resign post-haste. Others, including theologian Albert Mohler and mega-church pastor Matt Chandler, also made statements condemning spousal abuse.But the tight-knit Southern Baptist boys’ club is not so easily unraveled, and many leaders have sheltered their colleague. Some have simply remained mum. The denomination’s Executive Committee has not acknowledged the controversy despite the media coverage it has received. Current SBC President Steve Gaines has also stayed silent, though today he curiously tweeted, “You must not speak everything that crosses your mind” and encouraged people to “read your Bible more than you check [social media].” Others have actually offered their support. For example, Atlanta-based pastor and former SBC President Johnny Hunt took to Twitter to praise Patterson as “a man of God and a man of your word.”
It’s not difficult to denounce domestic violence, and it shouldn’t be controversial. And yet, America’s largest Protestant denomination now seems to be ethically schizophrenic when it comes to the topic.In the days since the scandal was first sparked, the situation for Patterson has worsened substantially:

  • First came another quote from the same audio clip, in which Patterson is heard telling a story about a female congregant of his who confessed to being abused by her husband. Rather than report the incident to the authorities or help the woman escape, he sent her back to her spouse and asked her to pray “not out loud, but quietly.” The woman returned the next Sunday with two black eyes, a sight which Patterson said made him “very happy” because it made her husband feel guilty enough to attend church for the first time.
  • Next came the release of Patterson’s defiant public statement in which he only conceded that his remarks were “probably unwise” before painting himself as a martyr who has been subjected to a campaign of “mischaracterization” fueled by “lies.”
  • Then, a video recording from 2014 emerged in which Patterson resembles the ghost of Roy Moore, objectifying and sexualizing a 16-year-old girl in a sermon illustration.
  • If that were not enough, a news story published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1997 surfaced in which Patterson was asked about women and quipped, “I think everybody should own at least one.”
  • Patterson offered an interview to the denomination’s publicity arm, Baptist Press, in hopes of doing some damage control. But he made things worse by confirming that he believes “non-injurious physical abuse which happens in so many marriages” might spur a woman to “pray [her husband] through this.” (Baptist Press later manipulated the quote to read “minor non-injurious abuse” claiming that it better aligned with Patterson’s intention.)
  • Finally, The Washington Post published an article noting that Patterson has been named as a defendant in a lawsuit, which claims he knew about child-molestation accusations against a close friend of his, fellow Southern Baptist Paul Pressler, but chose to cover it up rather than report it.

A wave of such damning allegations and confirmed quotes would be enough to drag down almost any giant. In a #MeToo moment, it’s astounding that Patterson is still standing. But Southern Baptists are a loyal bunch. One wonders if Baptists’ loyalty to one of yesterday’s leaders is blinding them to the optics of his present involvement and the damage to their public witness should he remain in power.

It doesn’t take a fortune teller to recognize that this will not end well.At the denomination’s annual gathering next month, Patterson is scheduled to give the coveted keynote sermon. A growing number of Southern Baptists are protesting his involvement, calling for him to be replaced. But because the messengers approved the schedule last year, there are only two ways he can be removed from the program. Either Patterson can voluntarily resign, which seems unlikely given his recalcitrance throughout the debacle, or the messengers in Dallas next month can offer a motion for his replacement.“If Patterson preaches at the SBC, he will, because of his past work, get a standing ovation,” Stetzer wrote at Christianity Today. “Every news story will point to that moment, tie it together with the accusations against Paul Pressler, and say that Southern Baptists don’t take abuse seriously.”Stetzer is right. If Patterson preaches in Dallas, then the Southern Baptist Convention, which has lost a million members over the last decade, will appear to be tolerant of spousal abuse in a cultural moment in which Americans overwhelmingly oppose such things. Such a perception, whether true or not, will doubtlessly come at a high price.

On any given Sunday, there are more women than men who attend church. These women, in communities across America, may think twice before pulling into a Southern Baptist church’s parking lot. And what of the many social justice-minded Millennials? They may see the denomination’s lack of conviction of their belief that organized religion is irredeemably corrupt, giving them one more reason to saturate churches with their absence.

One can only imagine how the million of Southern Baptist women feel when their own denomination cannot seem to muster enough moral courage to offer a full-throated repudiation of domestic abuse. The denomination holds that God intends for wives to submit to their husbands and has not passed a resolution on domestic violence since 1979.

It’s somewhat easier to tolerate disagreement on matters like race when the majority of SBC churches are overwhelmingly white. But when every congregation is at least 50 percent female, domestic abuse hits closer to home. The Southern Baptist Convention simply cannot afford to stand by a leader who has exhibited a decades-long pattern of dangerous comments that appear to trivialize women’s suffering.

With their denominational meeting fast approaching, Southern Baptists now find themselves in a situation that is precarious, perilous, and frankly ironic. The man who three decades ago unified his denomination now seems poised and willing to divide it.

*This article originally referred to Wheaton College as Wheaton University. We regret the error.

 

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Bryan Fischer: Jewish People & Other Non-Christians Don’t Have First Amendment Rights
By Kyle Mantyla

 

On his radio program yesterday, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer declared, onceagain, that only Christianity is protected by the First Amendment and that all non-Christians—including Jews, Muslims and Native Americans—have no constitutionally guaranteed right to freely practice their faiths.

Fischer, who routinely puts forward a completely incoherent theory regarding the meaning of the First Amendment, was discussing a case involving a North Carolina inmate who is suing for the right to practice Wicca when he declared that “worshipers of the devil” and all other non-Christian faiths are not entitled to First Amendment protections.

“The blunt, simple, direct, straightforward answer is that Wiccans do not have First Amendment rights,” he said, “nor do Muslims, nor do Jews, nor do Native Americans, nor do Rastafarians, nor do any practitioners of any other religion other than Christianity.”

“Whatever the First Amendment is about, whatever protections it extends in the federal Constitution, those were just for Christianity,” Fischer insisted. “Christianity has First Amendment rights under the federal Constitution, no other religion does.”

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Christian Preacher Terrorizes Audience At ‘Avengers’ Screening

Via Michael Stone

A Christian preacher terrorized a movie audience by screaming about God and “a passage to heaven” during a screening of the new film “Avengers: Infinity War.”

According to multiple reports, Michael Webber, a 28-year-old preacher with Truth and Triumph Ministries, sent a movie audience into a panic after beginning to scream about God and heaven towards the end of the movie screening at the Harkins Mountain Grove 16 theater in Redlands, California, on Friday night.

CBS News reports:

Armed officers rushed to the Harkins Mountain Grove 16 theaters in Redlands, where people had just finished watching the latest installment of  the “Avengers” franchise, fearing there might a gunman inside. Witnesses said when the movie was over, a man stood up and started yelling in what sounded like a preacher’s sermon.

Susie Arias told CBS News:

I think when he said, ‘If you were to die tonight, would your passage to heaven be guaranteed?’ — something along those lines — I think that’s when people started panicking.

Arias said that the preacher’s screaming sent audience members into a panic, with many people yelling and running for their lives, believing that Webber was a terrorist.

Commenting on the scene, witness Adrian Arias said:

That’s when the kind of chaos happened in the little exit, where people were jumping over the railings, and kind of falling over, twisting their ankles and hitting their head.

The Daily News reports at least two people were seriously injured trying to escape the deranged preacher’s out of control rant about death and dying.

Raw Story notes:

One woman was taken to an area hospital after she jumped over a railing 20 feet down to escape the screening room—and was subsequently trampled by other attendees trying to flee the theater.
Webber, the deranged preacher responsible for the terror, has only been charged with a misdemeanor so far.

Trying to explain his deplorable behavior, Webber told CBS News that he had preached in movie theaters before without a problem. Webber said:

Last night was an anomaly. The lights did not turn up for quite a few minutes, and so I really couldn’t see anyone’s reaction except those of the people just right around me.

Webber continued: It’s extremely unfortunate that anyone sustained injuries because of this. Again, I was unarmed.

Webber says he “was unarmed,” as if that makes it all okay. But the fact is, it’s not okay. In fact, it was like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, only with Jesus.

Make no mistake, Webber terrorized that audience at the “Avengers: Infinity War” screening.  Thus, Webber is not only a “raving lunatic,” he is also a Christian terrorist.

Bottom line: A deplorable Christian preacher terrorized a packed movie theater in order to rant and rave about his imaginary friend. Sad!

Christian Preacher Michael Webber Terrorizes Audience At ‘Avengers’ Screening (Image via CBS News screen grab)

 

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