Apr 14, 2015

Will evangelicals love Hillary Clinton in 2016?

Evangelicals didn't respond to Hillary Clinton with much warmth during her first presidential campaign.

According to Christianity Today in 2008:
From all sides of the political spectrum, evangelicals respond with a surprising amount of disgust upon hearing Hillary's name.  
Clinton, like every big-name political figure, has admittedly said and done things that have polarized, offended, and simply gotten under our skin. Her public persona, a brand of East Coast liberalism with roots in '60s radical politics, strikes many Americans as uppity and unapproachable. Open talk about her personal faith in recent years strikes some as politically convenient.
Will it be different this time?

Clinton and her team have put a lot of energy into appearing more relatable, approachable, and human. Going into the 2016 campaign, there's a major effort to humanize Clinton's image.

"Operatives who have been building her second presidential campaign," Ruby Cramer and Megan Apper report at Buzzfeed, "have conjured up words like 'intimate' and 'informal' to describe the 'tone' of the 'first 100 days.' They talk about retail politicking, the hardworking, old-fashioned way."

Part of what that means, apparently, is news stories about Clinton doing something normal, like eating a burrito in Maumee, Ohio, and not getting noticed. And then getting noticed for not getting noticed.

Another part of that project is showing Clinton as a person of faith, but a faith that is relatable for its quiet everydayness. The suggestion is that if she doesn't talk frequently or openly about her religious commitments, that's because -- exactly like evangelicals and middle class Americans more generally -- she is uncomfortable politicizing it. Faith, she feels, shouldn't be so strategic.

It's a tricky political strategy.

These efforts to emphasize the normalizes of a candidate can have the unintended effect of calling attention to how the "natural" persona is so carefully and politically crafted.

But if Clinton will struggle with the dehumanizing side effects of attempting to hold up and value her basic humanness, she's not the only one. It was evangelicals' commitment to valuing human life that allowed them to think of Clinton an not-really-human. The contradiction there was perhaps best captured in the fortune cookies passed out by the Family Research Council at a Republican convention. The political message inside said, "#1 reason to ban human cloning: Hillary Clinton."

For the editors of Christianity Today, the 2008 Clinton campaign was a moment of evangelical shame:
While pundits see candidates as punching bags, evangelicals are supposed to see candidates as, well, people. As we ponder how candidates are 'fearfully and wonderfully made,' we may haltingly come to realize that the most bold and courageous thing we each could do this election season, no matter who we vote for, is this: Love Hillary.
Will that happen in 2016? Probably not, but time will tell.

Apr 10, 2015

'Left Behind' seeks support from evangelical fans

You can get a speaking role in the next “Left Behind” movie for $7,500. You can name a character for $5,000, or appear as an extra in the background as the heroes figure out End Times prophecy for $2,500.

You can get these movie perks if you join the crowdfunding campaign for the sequel to the 2014 “Left Behind” film starring Nicolas Cage. Producer Paul Lalonde began a campaign on Indiegogo with a goal of raising $500,000 to finance the film.

“I’m asking you to be more than a fan,” Lalonde says in the promotional video explaining the campaign. “I’m asking you to be a partner in this vision.”

More than 130 people contributed in the first three days, giving nearly $40,000.

Read the full piece at the Washington Post: ‘Left Behind’ — which received 2 percent on Rotten Tomatoes — seeks crowdfunding for a sequel 

Apr 8, 2015

A dirty evangelical sock puppet takes Broadway

A dark and raw comedy about an evangelical sock puppet is a big hit in New York:

The New York Times has written about Hand to God at least seven times since it first premiered off-off Broadway in 2011, when critic Charles Isherwood said the show had a "naughty but lively tone" that "almost curdles into something more disturbing."

Now Hand to God is opening on Broadway, and the New York Times critic loves it even more. It's a "black comedy about the divided human soul," Isherwood writes, a Broadway "misfit both merry and scary, and very welcome."

As he put it in yet another piece on the play,
All of us play unhappy host to a demon or two roosting in our brains, urging us on to bad behavior now and then: a cutting remark, a catty tweet. But after watching the terrific, scary-funny play 'Hand to God,' by Robert Askins, I am very glad I don't own a hand puppet.
Other critics liked it too.

Apr 6, 2015

'Stay tuned: We have good news for you today'

The very first episode of the Hour of Power, one of the most successful televangelist programs in America:

Robert H. Schuller, who thought the gospel was best expressed to modern Americans in terms of self esteem and "possibility thinking," died last week at 88.

Apr 5, 2015

The monstrosity

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
-- John Updike, Seven Stanzas at Easter 

Apr 4, 2015

For since by a man came death

Corpus Chrisit (Salamanca, Spain)

For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 
 -- 1 Corinthians 15:21-26

Apr 3, 2015

Robert H. Schuller, 1926 - 2015

Robert H. Schuller, who preached a theology of self-esteem in an effort to communicate the Christian message to modern Americans, has died at 88.

Schuller was pastor of the Crystal Cathedral, a glittering, all-glass monument of a megachurch. Schuller was one of the country's most successful televangelists, with his show Hour of Power broadcast to millions weekly. While some conservative Christians were skeptical of Schuller's upbeat message of positive affirmations, he insisted the theology of self-esteem was evangelical.

"Something is terribly wrong in the area of theology today, because people aren't responding to the gospel as they should," Schuller told Christianity Today in the mid 1980s. "If they're dying, and they are; and going to hell, and they are; and we have the best thing in the world, and it's free; then why aren't they flocking in?"

The problem, according to Schuller, was communication. Americans were emotionally hungry, but didn't respond to insensitive condemnations or huffy proclamations about sin. Traditional formulations of the Christian message weren't effective.

Schuller, on the other hand, had a congregation of 10,000 in the mid-1980s and a viewership estimated at 2.7 million. If he was anything, he was an effective communicator.

He was famous for his motivational slogans, self-help quips that critics found crass but inspired "possibility thinking" in his followers:
  • "Turn your scars into stars"
  • "What you can conceive, you can achieve"
  • "Inch by inch, anything's a cinch" 
  • "It takes guts to leave the ruts" 
  • "Beginning is halfway there" 
  • "Don't take care, take charge"
  • "Tough times don't last, tough people do"
"Our job," Schuller said, "is to figure out how to present the living Christ in a way that people will effectively meet him."

Jesus wird zum tode verurteilt

Jesus wird zum tode verurteilt (Jesus is condemned to death).

Mar 31, 2015

Mar 28, 2015

'Jesus wrote a blank check'

If Jesus saw me dying
Would angels come a flying down?
I hope I got a little more time
I hope somebody lends me a dime
Now, Jesus wrote a blank check
Ah, one I haven't cashed yet

Mar 26, 2015

The Ku Klux Klan at church, circa 1922, probably in Portland, Oregon.

Mar 25, 2015

Mar 17, 2015

A classic B movie for Jesus

A Cuban Communist proves that Fidel Castro is better than Jesus in the 1971 film: If the Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do? He does it with this little empirical test:
Let's see if your Jesus will bring some candy now and produce a miracle. I don't see any candy. I don't taste any candy. There is no candy. Your Jesus didn't bring us any candy. The reason why? Your Jesus Christ can't do it. 
But I can tell you who can do it. We will pray to our glorious leader Fidel Castro and our glorious Fidel will bring us all of the candy we can eat.
It's a curious moment of reverse apologetics. This is actually an evangelical B-movie meant to bring people to belief in Jesus. Though Jesus doesn't show up with candy, the portrayal of the swarthy communist's case against Christ is intended by the film's creators to be a case for Christ.

This is one of the stranger examples of evangelical movie-making, even for the 1970s.

Mar 14, 2015

What if it's love? Prince does Contemporary Christian Music

Prince's version of Nicole Nordeman's worship song, What if?
But what if you're wrong?
What if there's more?
What if there's hope
you never dreamed of hoping for?
What if you jump?
Just close your eyes?
What if the arms that catch you
catch you by surprise?
What if He's more than enough?
What if it's love?
The musician Prince has released a new single, surprising even industry insiders by covering a Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) song about faith overcoming doubt.

The original is by Nicole Nordeman, a Gospel Music Association Dove-winning artist with a long career behind her. Nordeman has recently gained some fame among evangelicals for writing and performing a song on a Bible concept album accompanying Zondervan's Bible-reading program, The Story, which has been used in many evangelical churches. Nordeman also wrote and performed the theme song for VeggieTales' 2010 production Sweetpea Beauty.

Nordeman's music is not widely known outside of evangelicalism, though, and wasn't seen an obvious choice for Prince.

"Sure, Prince has sang about God and religion for years," Billboard reports, "but he usually doesn't release studio versions of cover songs -- much less covers of songs by a VeggieTales vet."

Prince is a Jehovah's Witness, so the song about choosing faith in Jesus may have resonated for religious reasons. He is also known, more than anything, for surprising the music industry experts.

Mar 13, 2015

Courts excluding Christians from jury duty

A potential juror was dismissed from the case of a Colorado man accused of killing 12 and wounding 70 in a mass shooting. Because of the man's "beliefs as a Christian," he couldn't sit on the jury.

The man, described in news reports as a middle-aged white man wearing a T-shirt, is Catholic. He is opposed to the death penalty, even for accused mass-shooter James Holmes, if Holmes is found guilty. The church is officially against capital punishment, except when necessary for public safety, which the catechism says is very rare, even practically non-existant. Some have worried this will mean Catholics are systematically excluded from the juries of death penalty cases, establishing a judicial bias against Catholics.

The judge was careful, in this Colorado case, to say that potential jurors cannot be dismissed because of their religious beliefs. Even if those beliefs conflict with the law, they can serve on a jury -- so long as they commit to enforcing the law they think is wrong.

That caveat wasn't good enough for the unnamed potential juror, though.