Christian Post

Who is Josh Harris? This debacle isn't getting much ink from news media and it should

Who is Josh Harris? This debacle isn't getting much ink from news media and it should

In the past few weeks, Instagram has been flaming with a really good religion story about evangelicalism’s latest fallen star — Joshua Harris.

Harris, as I wrote about last December, has been a hot topic in the evangelical Twitter universe for months, but few religion-beat reporters have run with this story. Being that the guy hit his top fame moment 22 years ago — when many of today’s religion reporters were in elementary school — it’s a story lots of people don’t know much about.

With one exception: There’s a cadre of folks determined to dump on the “purity movement” of the 1990s as much as they can and for them, Harris is a gift that doesn’t stop giving. We’ll let the Guardian bring us up to speed in what was a straight forward news story:

The American author of a bestselling Christian guide to relationships for young people has announced that his marriage is over and he has lost his faith.

Joshua Harris, whose biblical guide to relationships I Kissed Dating Goodbye sold nearly 1m copies around the world after it was published in 1997, has also apologised to LGBT+ people for contributing to a “culture of exclusion and bigotry”.

Can’t walk back your views much further than that.

In his book, Harris, a former pastor at a US megachurch, urged young Christians to reject dating for “courtship” under the guidance of parents and observing sexual abstinence. Young couples should not kiss, hold hands or spend time alone together before marriage, he said. Dating was spiritually unhealthy and a “training ground for divorce”, the book argued.

The book, written by Harris when he was 21, was widely circulated within evangelical Christian youth groups, helping to promote a “purity culture” and vows to preserve virginity until marriage.

There’s a whole cottage industry of critics of evangelicalism out there and when Harris announced on Instagram that his marriage was basically over, it was a rich feeding time for the evangelical left.

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Religious persecution: Why not cover all groups feeling Beijing's wrath, not just Protestants?

Religious persecution: Why not cover all groups feeling Beijing's wrath, not just Protestants?

It seems that hardly a week goes by without China ramping up its campaign to mold domestic religious expression to its liking, and with some member of the international media elite taking a hard look at Beijing’s anti-religion policies.

Last week, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper took on the task. It’s grade? Let’s just say it achieved less than a perfect score. I’ll get to the widely circulated story’s (online, that is) limitations in a moment. But first let’s give it what praise it also deserves.

The piece focused on China’s Christians, or more accurately, on China’s Protestant Christians.

In this regard, the story was passable. It included the current talk out of China that the government intends to rewrite the Bible — though just which version is left unnamed — to suit its propaganda purposes. (In September, the online, evangelical website the Christian Post reported that both testaments were to be reworked to the government's liking, meaning more in line with its policies.)

Still, any story that draws attention to China’s hyper-paranoid approach toward religious expression is, in my book, a good thing, despite its shortcomings.

Only by hammering the point home again and again can outside pressure be brought to bear on Beijing’s policies, if, in fact, that’s even currently possible. (For example, don't expect President Donald Trump to ratchet up such pressure; for him and most world leaders relations with China are all about trade and financial investment).

The Guardian story led with the case of the Early Rain Covenant Church, one of China’s so-called “underground,” or non-government approved, congregations. Here’s the story’s top.

In late October, the pastor of one of China’s best-known underground churches asked this of his congregation: had they successfully spread the gospel throughout their city? “If tomorrow morning the Early Rain Covenant Church suddenly disappeared from the city of Chengdu, if each of us vanished into thin air, would this city be any different? Would anyone miss us?” said Wang Yi, leaning over his pulpit and pausing to let the question weigh on his audience. “I don’t know.”

Almost three months later, Wang’s hypothetical scenario is being put to the test. The church in south-west China has been shuttered and Wang and his wife, Jiang Rong, remain in detention after police arrested more than 100 Early Rain church members in December.

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When covering Nigeria and Boko Haram, BBC consistently nails the crucial details

When covering Nigeria and Boko Haram, BBC consistently nails the crucial details

Boko Haram, the terrorist group that has torn up communities all over northern Nigeria, not to mention Cameroon, Niger and Chad, has been making more headlines recently.

This coming week includes the Oct. 15 deadline they have given for the Nigerian government to meet certain demands before they execute Leah Sharibu, a 15-year-old girl who was one of dozens of female students captured in February by Boko Haram. All the girls were released except her, mainly because she refused to give up her Christian beliefs as a condition for her release. She’s since become an international cause celebré, the subject of a book and potential Christian martyr.

At the same time, BBC has released a gorgeously produced piece on what life is like for the girls who are forced to become suicide bombers after being captured by Boko Haram. What we learn from the narrative is that poorly educated girls are imprisoned for months while being inundated with teachings from the Quran, then talked into getting a fast track to heaven by becoming a martyr to the cause.

I’ll begin first with the BBC piece, then cut back to Leah’s case. The former is headlined: “Made up to be beautiful: Sent out to die.”

Falmata is getting a full beauty treatment – a thick paste of henna, with its delicate pointed swirls, adorning her feet.

While it dries, a woman is batting with her hair. Comb in hard, she is stretching and straightening Falmata’s tight curls.

“We were allowed to choose any style for the hair and the henna,” remembers Falmata … (who) knows she’s going to look beautiful. But there’s a deadly consequence.

Once she’s made up, a suicide bomb will be attached to her waist.

So, these girls are being brainwashed into thinking they’re “marrying” martyrdom. She was told that if she killed non-believers, she’d go straight to paradise.

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Of all the contraceptive mandate stories out there, very few quoted religious folks

Of all the contraceptive mandate stories out there, very few quoted religious folks

Trying to dissect the Donald Trump Administration’s decision to religiously minded employers to cut birth control from their health plans is like tackling an elephant. But one has to start somewhere.

Just for review, we have covered this topic before here, here and here

As I scanned various articles on the topic, I noticed how few articles explained why some people and employers have religious objections to contraceptives. Do those in the media think we know these reasons already, so it’s no using re-explaining them? In other words, how do you understand this story without talking to people in the faith-based schools and ministries that are at the heart of the decision?

The most cogent piece was from the Atlantic:

Faced with setbacks on the legislative front, the Trump administration is going it alone on taking apart the Affordable Care Act piecemeal.
On Friday, the administration made one of its boldest moves yet, with two memos from multiple agencies that would dramatically curtail women’s access to birth control through their employers. The new regulations, effective immediately, would exempt all employers and insurers from covering or paying for coverage of contraceptives if they object “based on its sincerely held religious beliefs,” or have other “moral convictions” against covering such care.

 Mind you, this is not all employers, but it is those who have religious objections to it contraceptives being included in their employee health coverage. We’re talking about 71 companies here, according to Mother Jones.

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Trans commotion again: USA Today skips religious angles in bathroom-showers ruling

Trans commotion again: USA Today skips religious angles in bathroom-showers ruling

Religious conservatives cheered this week when a federal judge blocked the Obama administration's effort to force schools to allow transgendered people to use bathrooms of their choice.

Um … they did, didn’t they? (Squinting at article) Ummm, I could have sworn they would.  But they're not in the report by USA Today on the ruling.

This story, which was also distributed by Religion News Service, does cover a lot of ground in some 700 words. It reviews the lawsuit, brought by 13 states and two school districts, protesting Obama's directive. And it adeptly summarizes both the basic question and the mechanics of enforcement:

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s 38-page order said federal agencies exceeded their authority under the 1972 law banning sex discrimination in schools. The injunction applies nationwide, and follows a number of other recent court rulings against transgender students and employees.
The Texas ruling, issued late Sunday, turned on the congressional intent behind Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which requires that "facilities provided for students of one sex shall be comparable to such facilities provided for students of the other sex."
"It cannot be disputed that the plain meaning of the term sex" in that law "meant the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth," the judge wrote. "Without question, permitting educational institutions to provide separate housing to male and female students, and separate educational instruction concerning human sexuality, was to protect students’ personal privacy, or discussion of their personal privacy, while in the presence of members of the opposite biological sex."

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The mystery of Donald Trump’s religion: Inspired by Peale, or by Paula White?

 The mystery of Donald Trump’s religion: Inspired by Peale, or by Paula White?

Attempting to comprehend the mystery of Donald Trump’s religion, his critics can’t decide whether to blame Peale or Paula.

Some consider that “positive thinking” guru, the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993), the inspiration for what they dislike. (Reports say Trump, a boyhood Presbyterian, never actually joined  Peale’s New York City congregation, which is part of the Reformed Church in America.) For other skeptics, it’s not Peale who’s appalling but Paula White.

Writers with yahoo.com and then Politico.com have recently profiled White,  a popular broadcaster, speaker, author and since 2012 senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Fla. This is one of America’s countless high-growth independent congregations with a “Charismatic” or “Neo-Pentecostal” flavor.

White, a 50-year-old grandmother, and her ministries deserve further reportage with two angles, Trump’s creed and a major fissure in the unruly U.S. evangelical movement.

Veteran activist James Dobson alerted media to the White connection by passing along reports that Trump, a “baby Christian,” was led to renewed faith by White. Trump and White were pals long before she helped broker his 2015 and 2016 meetings with evangelical types. Trump endorsed one of her books in 2007 calling her “a beautiful person,” appeared on White’s TV show, and White rents a New York apartment in a Trump building.

So let's turn to Trump’s fiercest evangelical foe, the Rev. Dr. Russell Moore, the Washington D.C. voice for America’s largest Protestant body, the Southern Baptist Convention.

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ESPN's epic on Nike losing Steph Curry: Yes, that 4:13 Bible reference is part of the story

ESPN's epic on Nike losing Steph Curry: Yes, that 4:13 Bible reference is part of the story

The Golden State Warriors won another NBA game last night, which is not newsworthy in and of itself since the team has been winning at a 90-plus percent rate this year.

However, this was a tough road game against the Utah Jazz and this win makes it highly likely the Warriors -- with a string of home games ahead -- will break one of the most famous records in sports, the 72-10 season by Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in 1995-96.

Golden State is led, of course, by reigning MVP Stephen Curry, the baby-faced gunner whose long-range shooting is changing the balance of power in pro basketball. Clearly, The Stephen Curry Moment (click here for my take on the New York Times piece on that) is not over, as you can see by taking a quick trip to ESPN's "Nothin' But Steph" page.

As you would expect, Curry's commercial value is soaring along with his fame. This brings us to an amazing ESPN story -- "You won't believe how Nike lost Steph to Under Armour" -- that ran the other day about how, yes, the powerful, but lazy, gods of Nike basically shunned Curry as a client, with the young megastar jumping into the shoes of the under-dog Under Armour. This 5,000-plus word ESPN epic was so buzz-worthy that The Washington Post ran a story about the story.

GetReligion readers will not be surprised to learn there was a religion angle in this story, one consistent with Curry's strong and very public Christian faith.

GetReligion readers will also be shocked, shocked (not) to learn that this angle is nowhere to be found in the ESPN piece. This is rather hard to do, in light of the fact that Curry has -- since arriving at Under Armour -- been allowed to use "Charged by Belief" as the motto for his brand. Another hint: You will find a "4:13" reference on the Curry shoes, but not in the ESPN feature. Hold that thought.

So how did Nike lose Curry as a client?

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Half-cocked: Franklin Graham leaves GOP, and media speculation runs wild

Half-cocked: Franklin Graham leaves GOP, and media speculation runs wild

It's almost like they were just waiting. On Tuesday, Franklin Graham announced and denounced -- saying he was leaving the Republican Party and despairing of the party system altogether

A mere day later, the Daily Beast was asking, "Will Franklin Graham Lead an Evangelical Exodus from the GOP?"

Also yesterday, the Religion News Service cast Graham as a possible closet Trump backer.

These are the kinds of articles that keep the phrase "going off half-cocked" in circulation.

First, the Beast:

Franklin Graham, who heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, posted on Facebook yesterday that he plans to leave the Republican Party. His growing frustration highlights growing (and sometimes paradoxical) anger that pro-life and evangelical Christian leaders have for Republican Party leadership.
Graham took to Facebook to rip Republicans in the wake of a spending bill the House passed last week that maintains federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
“Seeing and hearing Planned Parenthood talk nonchalantly about selling baby parts from aborted fetuses with utter disregard for human life is reminiscent of Joseph Mengele and the Nazi concentration camps!” Graham wrote, referring to videos that showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing their fetal tissue donation program. “That should’ve been all that was needed to turn off the faucet for their funding.
“This is an example of why I have resigned from the Republican Party and declared myself Independent,” he continued. “I have no hope in the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, or Tea Party to do what is best for America.”

The article acknowledges that Graham told the Christian Post back in May that he'd lost faith in the Republicans, the Democrats and even the Tea Party.  Yet the Beast persists in saying Graham may inspire other evangelical leaders to leave the party.

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Shooting back: Christian militia in Iraq gets mainstream media attention

Shooting back: Christian militia in Iraq gets mainstream media attention

Maybe the terrorists of ISIS forgot, but their victims can get guns, too. One such militia, the Babylonian Brigades, is made of Christians who have joined Muslim defenders in Iraq. And as NBC News reports, "they're out for revenge."

Sounds like NBC's crew has zeroed in on a hot story that could well get hotter:

The 1,000-strong Babylonian Brigades is the only Christian militia under the Shiite-dominated umbrella group of volunteer fighters known as the Popular Mobilization Forces — and they're out for revenge.
ISIS "displaced us from our houses, they took our money, killed our young men and women and they took our properties," the group's commander, Rayan Al-Kildani, told NBC News. "Therefore, Christians decided to fight the terrorists of ISIS."
"By the will of God we will avenge what happened to our community," he added.

Many news organizations last year woke up to persecution of Christians;  "Iraq's Other Horror Story," Chris Matthews of MSNBC called it. But NBC News not only jumped on the counterattack, but talked to the fighters.

NBC reports that the Babylonian Brigades formed in June 2014 after the fall of Mosul, a city that once had 30,000 Christian residents.  The militiamen tell the reporter of thefts, rapes, enslavement and summary executions of their loved ones.

It cites the CIA World Factbook that only about 260,000 are left in Iraq as of 2010, although it doesn't say how many once lived there. Some sources count as many as 800,000 to a million before the U.S.' two military actions against the government of Saddam Hussein, starting in 1991.

ISIS' persecution of religious minorities -- Yazidis and Sufi and Shiite Muslims as well as Christians -- has gotten a rising tide of coverage, in mainstream media as well as the religious press. But most of the stories take one of two themes: suffering masses fleeing violence, only to face sickness and hunger; or thousands falling victim to shootings, burnings or beheadings by ISIS.

There's also an occasional subplot of mainstream media: friends of various religions banding together against a common foe. Newsweek did it in March with its feature on the Christian flight from Maaloula, Syria. " In this town, we are not defined by religion," a Sunni man told the newsmagazine. "We all know each other. Everyone is a Christian, and everyone is Muslim."

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