"Like all great satire, the book is cerebral, irreverent and hilarious, while also edifying" Publisher's Weekly
"This book is hilarious... [Lanham] didn't skimp on his research. The book provides a telling overview of the religious right's leadership, the beliefs they espouse, and just how incredibly absurd and hypocritical they are." The Campaign to Defend the Constitution
Editor's Pick: "From the author of The Hipster Handbook comes this irreverent navigation of all things Evangelical. Learn enough slang to fit in at a church picnic or why SpongeBob SquarePants is an agent of the Devil" Chicago Sun-Times
"This guy has written quite a funny book." Alan Colmes, Fox News
"A funny book with some funny cartoons on everyone from Rick Warren as the evangelical Jimmy Buffett to a guide for Christian haircuts that is hilarious... I was chuckling until I saw that I am the postscript" Mark Driscoll, pastor of the largest megachurch in Washington State
"Every good little liberal will have this book on order as a stocking stuffer come Jesus' birthday." Time Out
"A handbook for coping with bible thumpers.... When considering the power and influence evangelical Christians wield in this country, you have to laugh to keep from crying. Robert Lanham... understands this well and offers much needed, totally biased comic relief." Village Voice
"Not only is this an important book, it's a funny book." Marc Maron, Air America Radio
"Author Robert Lanham is an observer... but with his latest, The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right, Lanham's keen eye has hit perhaps his most entertaining target." Metro Paper
"It’s hard to remember a more pointed and scathing attack… Lanham launches a focused, sustained barrage on the Pat Robertsons and James Dobsons of the world… He’s done his homework. The book is thoroughly researched and packed with quotes and analysis of the famous and not-so-famous leaders of the evangelical right… the research is truly impressive. " The Reader
"An utterly biased, humorous one-stop guide to the major evangelical players." Details
"Check out Robert Lanham's (author of the fabled Hipster Handbook and former Bible Belt resident) Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right. It's funny because it's true." Elizabeth Spiers, founding Editor of Gawker
"Like the Daily Show or The Colbert Report, it's humor reveals the basic truth. Which is to say that the "sinners" of the world may be closer to Jesus and the divine than those who use God's name for personal enrichment, power building, and political gain." Buzzflash
"The book does for religion what Jon Stewart does for politics." CanWest News Service
"Informative, laugh-out-loud funny and horrifying at times, check out this snide, leftie-geared guide to the major evangelical players... Robert Lanham has a writing style that resembles... McSweeney's, and the irony-stacked humor of TV programs such as "The Daily Show" Style Weekly, Richmond VA
"Hilarious... go out and buy this book now." Sam Seder, The Majority Report
"This book should lay at the lifeless feet of your corpse as a silent, yet
powerful and all encompassing explanation as to why you took your own life."
David Cross, Arrested Development
A man unhappy with an Islamic association's plans to build a mosque next to his property has staged pig races as a protest during afternoon prayers.
Craig Baker, 46, sold merchandise and grilled sausages Friday for about 100 people who showed up in heavy rain. He insisted he wasn't trying to offend anyone with the pigs, which are forbidden from the Muslim diet.
"I am just defending my rights and my property," Baker said. "They totally disrespected me and my family."
Muslims don't hate pigs, they just don't eat them, said engineer Kamel Fotouh, president of the 500-member Katy Islamic Association in this Houston suburb.
"I don't care if he races, roasts or slaughters pigs," said Yousef Allam, a spokesman for the group.
The dispute began when the association asked Baker to remove his cattle from its newly bought land. The association plans to build a mosque, community center, athletic facilities and a school.
Baker agreed to move his cattle but thought the Muslims also wanted him off the land his family has lived on for more than 100 years.
Earlier this month, Baker conceded that the Muslims probably aren't after his land, but he said he had to go through with the pig races because "I would be like a total idiot if I didn't. I'd be the laughingstock now because I've gone too far."
All the same, Baker plans to continue the weekly pig races until interest dwindles.
The association never meant to imply it wanted Baker to move, Allam said.
"If we somehow communicated that to him, then we apologize," he said.
Resident Susan Canavespe said the pig racing wasn't mean-spirited -- "It's just Texas-spirited."
As US troops battle Islamic extremists abroad, the Pentagon and the armed forces are reaching out to Muslims at home.
An underlying goal is to interest more Muslims in the military, which needs officers and troops who can speak Arabic and other relevant languages and understand the culture of places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The effort is also part of a larger outreach. Pentagon officials say they are striving for mutual understanding with Muslims at home and abroad and to win their support for US war aims. Among the efforts to attract and retain Muslim cadets:
• West Point and the other service academies have opened Muslim prayer rooms, as have military installations.
• Imams serve full- and part-time as chaplains at the academies and some bases.
• Top non-Muslim officers and Pentagon officials have taken to celebrating religious events with Muslims overseas and here in the US.
"There is a message here, and that is that Muslims and the Islamic religion are totally compatible with Western values," says Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England in an interview.
For the past two years, Mr. England has hosted an iftar, the feast that ends the daytime fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Va. His guests have included ambassadors, leaders of the Muslim-American community, and Muslims who serve in the US armed forces.
President Bush also hosted an iftar at the White House in October, as he has done for several years. Gen. Robert Magnus, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, held one the same month at the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington for defense attachés from predominantly Muslim nations.
The US armed services don't recruit by religion, but the Pentagon estimates at least 3,386 Muslims were serving in the US military as of September. No precise figures are available because, while US service members are surveyed on their religion, they aren't required to disclose it. Advocacy groups put the number at 15,000, saying many are reluctant to reveal their religion. African-Americans represent the largest share of Muslims in uniform, they add.
However uncertain the progress, the military is intensifying its outreach.
On June 6 - the anniversary of D-Day, he notes - Mr. England helped dedicate a new Islamic prayer center at the Quantico Marine Corps Base near Washington, whose 6,100 marines include about 24 Muslims, according to Lt. Cmdr. Abuhena Saifulislam, a Navy chaplain who serves as their imam.
The Marines also have allowed Muslims in their ranks at Quantico some dispensations to make it easier to practice their religion, says Lieutenant Commander Saifulislam, a US citizen born and raised in Bangladesh. During Ramadan, "they're allowed to have some time off to prepare for their fasting break and not to go to physical training" while fasting, he says.
Muslim troops say misunderstandings and friction with non-Muslims in uniform arise sometimes, but practicing Islam in a military at war with extremists who profess the same faith isn't a burden, they add.
Petty Officer Third Class Nicholas Burgos, a Sunni Muslim training to be a Navy SEAL, or commando, says instructors sometimes goad him by calling him "Osama bin Burgos" or asking if he's training to help the Taliban. But "it's all in good fun," he insists.
"It's all about how much mental stress you can deal with while you're in training," Petty Officer Burgos says. "I just laugh or have a smirk on my face."
His father, Asadullah Burgos, is the part-time imam at the US Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., whose roughly 4,000 cadets include 32 Muslims, 12 of whom are foreign students.
"There's been some insults and some taunting, but it's been handled at the cadet level," Imam Burgos says. "Usually that's due to ignorance."
Col. John Cook, the senior chaplain at West Point, says that after media reports about the academy's new Muslim prayer room, he got a call from a self-described "concerned citizen" who fretted that "the Muslims are taking over the world."
"I told him, 'I'm a Christian chaplain, but I have the responsibility to provide for other faith groups,' " Colonel Cook says. Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish cadets all have their own chapels at West Point, he notes.
Marine Sgt. Jamil Alkattan, a Sunni Muslim of Syrian heritage from South Bend, Ind., says his religion, his knowledge of Arabic, and his familiarity with Arab culture were major assets during two tours in Iraq.
Not only was he able to teach fellow marines key Arabic phrases and explain that all Muslims aren't extremists, he says, but he also was able to befriend locals, who brought him vital intelligence. "They would come to me and say, 'I know where bombs are,' and this and that," Sergeant Alkattan says. "I never got to sleep. They would come at night time and tell me, 'Hey, I think these guys [insurgents] are trying to set you guys up,' or, 'I've seen these guys with an IED [improvised bomb].' I think it stopped a lot of things that could have happened."
Under a new Middle East Cultural Outreach Program created by the Marine Corps, Sergeant Alkattan is one of six Arab-American marines selected to be stationed in major American cities as liaisons to the Arab-American community and advisers to recruiters.
The program was conceived by Gunnery Sgt. Jamal Baadani, a Muslim born in Cairo who emigrated to Michigan when he was 10.
"It is not a direct recruiting program," says Sergeant Baadani, but its goal is to educate recruiters to avoid cultural no-nos and foster good relations with Arab-American communities. The "overall objective ... is to develop solid relationships with the Arab and Muslim communities for the 21st and 22nd centuries. This isn't something that's just a Band-Aid treatment."
Austin's electrified yuletide tradition -- a shimmering strip of Christmas-light-laden bungalows on 37th Street, just east of Guadalupe -- for more than 20 years has treated processions of thousands to a visual OD of elaborate outdoor illumination that would leave even Clark Griswold feeling inadequate. But many residents and onlookers agree that this year things aren't quite what they used to be.
It's a story less about lights than about community. The short explanation for the street's absence of dazzle is that the most devoted -- perhaps fanatical -- Christmas-light enthusiasts have all gradually moved away. Some say this year's departure of light display co-founders Jamie Lipman and Sharon Smith -- owners of the light-loaded plastic- and foil-wrapped cornerstone residence that offered an eye-popping backyard walkthrough -- was the tipping point. Several neighbors partially blame the lackluster year on three dark, long-vacant houses on the street, owned by well-known Central Austin real estate lord Jules Caplan, which have inexplicably come on and off the market at allegedly exorbitant prices. Passerby Jorie Grosse, who's lived in Austin off and on for 15 years, described this year's showing as "kind of lame" and "uninspired" Thursday night, specifically noting how she missed the insane luminescence of the Lipman-Smith residence (the new owners have a drastically toned-down display -- reportedly leftovers that remained hanging). She compared the success of the street's Christmas lights to a shopping mall, in that "you need to have the anchors." (What the display lacks in shimmer, it has recently made up for in shock -- with the weekend debut of a nativity scene featuring Mary Cheney -- the vice president's pregnant lesbian daughter -- and her partner, Heather Poe, as Christ's parents, along with Dick Cheney and Rummy as wise men and an angelic floating Condi Rice overhead.) READ IT ALL
Robin Hayes has the solution to the Iraq war: have our soldiers convert all Muslims to Christianity.
Having won the election by only a hair’s width and almost getting himself kicked out of Congress seems to have had some profound psychological effects on poor Mr. Hayes. A speech that flip-floppin’ Robin gave last week at the Concord Rotary Club seems to prove he has finally gone off the deep end.
Our local weekly newspaper the “Concord Standard and Mount Pleasant Times” reported on Mr. Hayes speech in his hometown:
First there’s the usual talk of how we’re “winning” over there: “The war in Iraq has got to be won; it’s being won”
(A couple of months ago Hayes said that the rise in violence in Iraq was an indication that we’re winning.)
Then comes the real kicker: “Stability in Iraq ultimately depends on spreading the message of Jesus Christ, the message of peace on earth, good will towards men. Everything depends on everyone learning about the birth of the Savior.”
So if we just turn our soldiers into missionaries everything will be okay, Mr. Hayes?
First we sent our men over there to take out the WMD’s, then it was to “spread democracy”, now you want them there to “spread the message of Jesus Christ”?
It so happens that people in Iraq already have a savior but unfortunately for Mr. Hayes it’s Muhammed, not Jesus.
If we can’t keep Muslims from killing each other over there, I don’t think that trying to make them all Christian is going to be any easier.
With this kind of talk Hayes just plays into the hands of Al-Qaeda by confirming what their leaders have always been saying: those American soldiers are just modern Crusaders. He is thereby strengthening the beliefs of terrorists that want to kill every American soldier they come across.
For Conservative Christian groups, this year’s hot gift is a weapon for fighting back in the “War on Christmas,” be it a button, a bumper sticker or a memo with advice to the troops.
The Mississippi-based American Family Association says it has sold more than 500,000 buttons and 125,000 bumper stickers bearing the slogan “Merry Christmas: It’s Worth Saying.”
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal aid group that boasts a network of some 900 lawyers standing ready to “defend Christmas,” says it has moved about 20,000 “Christmas packs.” The packs, available for a suggested $29 donation, include a three-page legal memo and two lapel pins.
And Liberty Counsel, a conservative law firm affiliated with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, says it has sold 12,500 legal memos on celebrating Christmas and 8,000 of its own buttons and bumper stickers.
Lawmakers have drawn up a resolution naming Jesus Christ as the honorary king of Poland, but have failed to win support from the country's powerful Roman Catholic church.
Lawmakers for the ruling Law and Justice party and League of Polish Families as well as the opposition Peasants Party back the resolution, said Szymon Ruman, spokesman for parliamentary speaker Marek Jurek.
However, the proposal currently has the support of only 46 members in the 460-seat parliament, well short of the necessary 231 votes to pass. Ruman said the resolution would likely be voted on sometime after Jan. 1.
Backing from the church in this strongly Catholic country would be crucial for building support for the proposal, but on Wednesday several bishops criticized it, and said parliament should stay out of religious affairs.
"Let parliament deal with passing better laws that we need," Gdansk Archbishop Tadeusz Goclowski said.
"This kind of action, although it may stem from good will, sounds a bit like propaganda," said bishop Tadeusz Pieronk.
Dan and Ann Stratton are a Wall Street power couple, even if Wall Street doesn’t know it. Dan is a tall, blond, muscular Minnesota boy turned Yale football star who, by the time he was 30, had parlayed his college connections into a small fortune as a commodities trader. Today, at 47, he is the founder and pastor of Faith Exchange Fellowship, a fundamentalist Christian congregation in Manhattan’s financial district. He is also a “five-fold minister” of Yahweh, a self-described evangelist, apostle and prophet, and spiritual warrior king. Ann is a North Jersey Catholic schoolgirl turned born-again miracle worker, a lithe beauty with deeply sympathetic eyes and a sexy wardrobe -- Carmela Soprano endowed with Protestant superpowers -- whose prayers once supposedly raised a German au pair from the dead on the street in front of the Blue Moon Mexican Cafe in Englewood, N.J.
ogether they are on a mission to banish Satan from the financial temples of Wall Street and transform New York City into “ChristTown.” But first they have to find a decent piece of downtown real estate.
Usually, Faith Exchange Fellowship holds its Sunday services in a ballroom at the Marriott Financial Center Downtown Hotel on West Street, at least for the past five years, since they lost their permanent home on 9/11. The most recent Sunday I was there, a congregation of about 400 had gathered. They stood for half an hour before the service began, clapping and dancing to gospel tunes. The singing was led by Carolyn Miller, who once toured in a national company of “The Wiz,” and a small choir that includes professionals who perform in clubs and shows around New York. The band featured Billy (Spaceman) Patterson, a local guitar legend who has played with Miles Davis and James Brown and whose current night job was musical director of Melvin Van Peebles’s raunchy off-Broadway musical, “Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death.” READ IT ALL
An executive staff member at New Life Church in Colorado Springs has resigned after admitting to sexual misconduct and other mistakes - the result of an examination of the staff's moral makeup after the ouster of senior pastor Ted Haggard, a church official said Sunday. Christopher Beard, who headed a ministry that trained young adults in leadership skills, stepped down Friday after admitting to "a series of decisions displaying poor judgment, including one incident of sexual misconduct several years ago," said Rob Brendle, an associate pastor at the 14,000- member church.
Citing confidentiality over personnel issues, Brendle would not discuss the nature of the sexual misconduct except to say it did not involve Haggard or a minor.
Beard, a New Life employee for nine years, was not married at the time of the incident but is now, Brendle said. Beard could not be reached for comment Sunday. After Haggard's fall in a drugs-and-gay- sex scandal last month, the senior leadership of New Life asked its outside board of overseers to take a closer look at the "spiritual character" of its 200-member staff as a precaution. Brendle said Beard's disclosures came during a meeting with the board, which is made up of four pastors from other congregations. READ IT ALL
The passion of Tom Monaghan: Pizza. God. Sam Brownback.
The Domino's pizza founder, one of the nation's richest and most controversial Roman Catholic philanthropists, is putting his money and influence into making Brownback, the Republican Kansas senator, the next president of the United States.
The former pizza magnate is advising the 2008 presidential exploratory committee for Brownback, a longtime social conservative who converted to Catholicism a few years ago. Monaghan, who declined an interview request, is expected to play a lead role in "Catholics for Brownback."
More important, his support is likely to be a big help to Brownback's fundraising, which is currently regarded as the weakest part of Brownback's candidacy.
"He brings to the table recognition in the Catholic community," said Marlene Elwell, a Michigan political activist who used to work for Monaghan. "It's always positive to have a leader in a community endorse you."
But the extent of Monaghan's religious fervor could raise eyebrows among more secular voters.
"In the Catholic community, he's looked upon as kind of on the fringes," said the Rev. Robert Drinan, a liberal Roman Catholic priest and former Democratic congressman who teaches at Georgetown University. "The worldview is, 'We have to get back to a Catholic civilization.' They want to go back to a Christian society imposed from above. ... It's just another world they want to build."
Literally: Monaghan, who sold Domino's for nearly $1 billion in 1998, has spent a chunk of his fortune developing his own utopia on 5,000 acres in Southwest Florida: Ave Maria, a planned community of 11,000 homes, built around a massive church and a doctrinaire Catholic university also called Ave Maria.
Last year, Monaghan said in a speech in Boston: "We're going to control all the commercial real estate, so there's not going to be any pornography sold in this town. We're controlling the cable system. The pharmacies are not going to be able to sell condoms or dispense contraceptives."
Monaghan later backed off that statement. But development officials have made clear that they would prefer retailers who follow Monaghan's wishes.
Then there's Ave Maria University, which Monaghan founded and funded with $250 million of his own money.
It bothers some involved in Catholic education that Monaghan and school leaders declared Ave Maria University necessary because many of the nation's 200-plus other Catholic colleges and universities strayed from church teachings.
"There is certainly a degree of presumption, even hubris, in marketing institutions of this type on the premise that all the other schools are failing to educate Catholics effectively," said Richard Yanikoski, the president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.
Even before his work in Florida, Monaghan was a lightning rod. Domino's was intermittently boycotted in the 1980s because of Monaghan's anti-abortion activism.
Monaghan has never before been a major player on a presidential campaign. Several people familiar with Monaghan and his work said they were surprised to see him involved.
In a rare interview, Monaghan told Newsweek earlier this year that "I believe all of history is just one big battle between good and evil. I don't want to be on the sidelines."
Deal Hudson, a prominent conservative Catholic who knows Monaghan, said Monaghan might see in Brownback — who cites "changing the culture" as a motivation for running — a kindred spirit.
"Tom doesn't want to be associated with anyone who's going to compromise," said Hudson, executive director of the Morley Institute for Church and Culture and a former adviser to President Bush on Catholic issues. "That's why he's getting behind Sen. Brownback. ... The message will be that Brownback meets the standard not just for what a presidential candidate should be, but also what a Catholic should be."
Monaghan's most important role would be delivering that message to wealthy, like-minded potential campaign donors. Most analysts say the lack of a fundraising network confines Brownback to second-tier status in a crowded GOP field. Brownback is counting on Monaghan to change that.
"I hope he'll help us in a number of ways, with people he knows around the country," Brownback said.
A key will be Legatus, a lay group for conservative Catholic CEOs that Monaghan founded. The organization has more than 5,000 members.
Brownback has spoken to Legatus groups around the country in the last few years. He first met Monaghan in 2002, when Brownback spoke to the group's "Pro-Life Pilgrimage" to Washington, said Joseph Cella, a former Monaghan employee.
"That's the blue-chip group," said William Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, a conservative group on whose board of advisers Monaghan sits. "In Legatus, he's got thousands of members who are all Catholics, all well-to-do. This is the cream of the Catholic community. And they all have friends. You talk about where to go for fundraising, there's a list there that's been around for a number of years."
Brownback has said he hopes his interest in international human rights will attract voters who do not share his socially conservative views.
But that effort could be hindered by a heavy financial reliance on a conservative Catholic network — besides Monaghan, Brownback's campaign advisers include former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, another influential conservative Catholic, and the Rev. Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life.
"The dangerous potential this brings to the table is that the candidate becomes beholden to a religious ideology instead of just a political philosophy," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "We have a secular government."
Episcopalians Are Reaching Point of Revolt
For about 30 years, the Episcopal Church has been one big unhappy family. Under one roof there were female bishops and male bishops who would not ordain women. There were parishes that celebrated gay weddings and parishes that denounced them; theologians sure that Jesus was the only route to salvation, and theologians who disagreed.
Now, after years of threats, the family is breaking up.
As many as eight conservative Episcopal churches in Virginia are expected to announce today that their parishioners have voted to cut their ties with the Episcopal Church. Two are large, historic congregations that minister to the Washington elite and occupy real estate worth a combined $27 million, which could result in a legal battle over who keeps the property. READ IT ALL
It's not the least of John McCain’s political talents that he comes across as a paragon of straight talk even when he isn’t talking straight. So it was a surprise to see him reduced to near-stammering on ABC’s “This Week” two Sundays after the election. The subject that brought him low was the elephant in the elephants’ room, or perhaps we should say in their closet: homosexuality.
Senator McCain is no bigot, and his only goal was to change the subject as quickly as possible. He kept repeating two safe talking points for dear life: he opposes same-sex marriage (as does every major presidential aspirant in both parties) and he is opposed to discrimination. But because he had endorsed a broadly written Arizona ballot initiative that could have been used to discriminate against unmarried domestic partners, George Stephanopoulos wouldn’t let him off the hook.
“Are you against civil unions for gay couples?” he asked the senator, who replied, “No, I’m not.” When Mr. Stephanopoulos reiterated the question seconds later -- “So you’re for civil unions?” -- Mr. McCain answered, “No.” In other words, he was not against civil unions before he was against them. His gaffe was reminiscent of a similar appearance on Mr. Stephanopoulos’s show in 2004 by Bill Frist, a Harvard-trained doctor who refused to criticize a federal abstinence program that catered to the religious right by spreading the canard that sweat and tears could transmit AIDS.
Senator Frist is now a lame duck, and his brand of pandering, typified by his errant upbeat diagnosis of the brain-dead Terri Schiavo’s condition, is following him to political Valhalla. The 2006 midterms left Karl Rove’s supposedly foolproof playbook in tatters. It was hard for the Republicans to deal the gay card one more time after the Mark Foley and Ted Haggard scandals revealed that today’s conservative hierarchy is much like Roy Cohn’s milieu in “Angels in America,” minus the wit and pathos.
This time around, ballot initiatives banning same-sex marriage drew markedly less support than in 2004; the draconian one endorsed by Mr. McCain in Arizona was voted down altogether. Two national politicians who had kowtowed egregiously to their party’s fringe, Rick Santorum and George Allen, were defeated, joining their ideological fellow travelers Tom DeLay and Ralph Reed in the political junkyard. To further confirm the inexorable march of social history, the only Christmas season miracle to lift the beleaguered Bush administration this year has been the announcement that Mary Cheney, the vice president’s gay daughter, is pregnant. Her growing family is the living rejoinder to those in her father’s party who would relegate gay American couples and their children to second-class legal or human status.
Yet not even these political realities have entirely broken the knee-jerk habit of some 2008 Republican presidential hopefuls to woo homophobes. Mitt Romney, the Republican Massachusetts governor, was caught in yet another embarrassing example of his party’s hypocrisy last week. In a newly unearthed letter courting the gay Log Cabin Republicans during his unsuccessful 1994 Senate race, he promised to “do better” than even Ted Kennedy in making “equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern.” Given that Mr. Romney has been making opposition to same-sex marriage his political calling card this year, his ideological bisexuality looks as foolish in its G-rated way as that of Mr. Haggard, the evangelical leader who was caught keeping time with a male prostitute.
There’s no evidence that Mr. Romney’s rightward move on gay civil rights and abortion (about which he acknowledges his flip-flop) has helped him politically. Or that Mr. McCain has benefited from a similar sea change that has taken him from accurately labeling Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “agents of intolerance” in 2000 to appearing at Mr. Falwell’s Liberty University this year. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last week found that among Republican voters, Rudy Giuliani, an unabashed liberal on gay civil rights and abortion, leads Mr. McCain 34 percent to 26 percent. Mr. Romney brought up the rear, at 5 percent. That does, however, put him nominally ahead of another presidential wannabe, the religious-right favorite Sam Brownback, who has held up a federal judicial nomination in the Senate because the nominee had attended a lesbian neighbor’s commitment ceremony.
For those who are cheered by seeing the Rovian politics of wedge issues start to fade, the good news does not end with the growing evidence that gay-baiting may do candidates who traffic in it more harm than good. It’s not only centrist American voters of both parties who reject divisive demagoguery but also conservative evangelicals themselves. Some of them are at last standing up to the extremists in their own camp.
No one more dramatically so, perhaps, than Rick Warren, the Orange County, Calif., megachurch leader and best-selling author of “The Purpose Driven Life.” He has adopted AIDS in Africa as a signature crusade, and invited Barack Obama to join the usual suspects, including Senator Brownback, to address his World AIDS Day conference on the issue. This prompted predictable outrage from the right because of Mr. Obama’s liberal politics, especially on abortion. One radio host, Kevin McCullough, demonized the Democrat for pursuing “inhumane, sick and sinister evil” as a legislator. An open letter sponsored by 18 “pro-life” groups protested the invitation, also citing Mr. Obama’s “evil.” But Mr. Warren didn’t blink.
Among those defending the invitation was David Kuo, the former deputy director of the Bush White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In a book, “Tempting Faith,” as well as in interviews and on his blog, the heretical Mr. Kuo has become a tough conservative critic of the corruption of religion by politicians and religious-right leaders who are guilty of “taking Jesus and reducing him to some precinct captain, to some get-out-the-vote guy.” Of those “family” groups who criticized Mr. Obama’s appearance at the AIDS conference, Mr. Kuo wrote, “Are they so blind and possessed with such a narrow definition of life that they can think of life only in utero?” The answer, of course, is yes. The Christian Coalition parted ways with its new president-elect, a Florida megachurch pastor, Joel Hunter, after he announced that he would take on bigger issues like poverty and global warming.
But it is leaders like Mr. Hunter and Mr. Warren who are in ascendance. Even the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at Mr. Haggard’s former perch, the National Association of Evangelicals, has joined a number of his peers in taking up the cause of the environment, putting him at odds with the Bush administration. Such religious leaders may not have given up their opposition to abortion or gay marriage, but they have more pressing priorities. They seem to have figured out, as Mr. Kuo has said, that “politicians use Christian voters for their money and for their votes” and give them little in return except a reputation for bigotry and heartless opposition to the lifesaving potential of stem-cell research.
The axis of family jihadis — Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association — is feeling the heat; its positions get more extreme by the day. A Concerned Women for America mouthpiece called Mary Cheney’s pregnancy “unconscionable,” condemning her for having “injured her child” and “acted in a way that denies everything that the Bush administration has worked for.” (That last statement, thankfully, is true.) This overkill reeks of desperation. So does these zealots’ recent assault on the supposedly feminizing “medical” properties of soy baby formula (which deserves the “blame for today’s rise in homosexuality,” according to the chairman of Megashift Ministries), and penguins.
Yes, penguins. These fine birds have now joined the Teletubbies and SpongeBob SquarePants in the pantheon of cuddly secret agents for “the gay agenda.” Schools are being forced to defend “And Tango Makes Three,” an acclaimed children’s picture book based on the true story of two Central Park Zoo male penguins who adopted a chick from a fertilized egg. The hit penguin movie “Happy Feet” has been outed for an “anti-religious bias” and its “endorsement of gay identity” by Michael Medved, the commentator who sets the tone for the religious right’s strictly enforced code of cultural political correctness.
Such censoriousness is increasingly the stuff of comedy. So are politicians of all stripes who advertise their faith. A liberal like Howard Dean is no more credible talking about the Bible (during the 2004 campaign he said his favorite book in the New Testament was Job) than twice-married candidates like Mr. McCain are persuasive at pledging allegiance to “the sanctity of marriage.”
For all the skeptical theories about the Obama boomlet -- or real boom, we don’t know yet -- no one doubts that his language about faith is his own, not a crib sheet provided by a conservative evangelical preacher or a liberal political consultant on “values.” That’s why a Democrat from Chicago whose voting record is to the left of Hillary Clinton’s received the same standing ovation from the thousands at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church that he did from his own party’s throngs in New Hampshire. After a quarter-century of watching politicians from both parties exploit religion for partisan and often mean-spirited political gain, voters on all sides of this country’s culture wars are finally in the market for something new.
Before David Paszkiewicz got to teach his accelerated 11th-grade history class about the United States Constitution this fall, he was accused of violating it.
Shortly after school began in September, the teacher told his sixth-period students at Kearny High School that evolution and the Big Bang were not scientific, that dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, and that only Christians had a place in heaven, according to audio recordings made by a student whose family is now considering a lawsuit claiming Mr. Paszkiewicz broke the church-state boundary.
“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.”
The student, Matthew LaClair, said that he felt uncomfortable with Mr. Paszkiewicz’s statements in the first week, and taped eight classes starting Sept. 13 out of fear that officials would not believe the teacher had made the comments.
Since Matthew’s complaint, administrators have said they have taken “corrective action” against Mr. Paszkiewicz, 38, who has taught in the district for 14 years and is also a youth pastor at Kearny Baptist Church. However, they declined to say what the action was, saying it was a personnel matter. READ IT ALL
When I met Ted Haggard in his New Life Church office last autumn, he was on his way to Denver, Colorado. He often caught flights out of the city, which was a short drive from his home in Colorado Springs, the mountainside town commonly referred to as the "evangelical Vatican", given its enormous born-again community and its abundance of "Welcome to Bush country" bumper stickers.
While I drank a Starbucks cappuccino I'd purchased in the food court of his 14,000-member megachurch, we discussed his friendship with George Bush, his belief that pro-business capitalism was "scriptural", and his best-selling book, The Jerusalem Diet: The "One Day" Approach to Reach Your Ideal Weight - and Stay There.
His ongoing methamphetamine-fuelled affair with a gay prostitute who lived in Denver wasn't mentioned that day, but Haggard did cite his belief that "the homosexual agenda" was a devastating "sin" that was dangerous to the future of America.
Before his fall from grace, Haggard was the poster child of America's religious right, a nationalistic stepchild of Protestantism that is staunchly conservative, xenophobic, politically active, predominately Caucasian and, like Haggard, curiously preoccupied with gay culture.
I found Haggard's obsession with abortion and same-sex marriage - and the religious right's for that matter - quite odd. Especially given the enormous, sword-toting, homoerotic angel statue I'd seen in Pastor Ted's church lobby.
The day I met Haggard, he stated unequivocally that he was "a right-wing religious conservative" whose "only disagreement" with George Bush concerned "what type of truck to drive". The pastor spoke with the President weekly to discuss policy.
Given that 79 per cent of the 26.5m evangelicals voted to re-elect Bush, much of the evangelical community apparently shares Haggard's sentiments. And like Haggard, most have also placed abortion and gay marriage at the top of their list as issues about which Christians should be most concerned.
Despite a rapid-fire onslaught of scandals that has blown away the careers of several of the religious right's darlings - Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed and Mark Foley come to mind - the "values voters'" loyalty to the Republican, pro-business, pro-family platform to which Haggard subscribed has scarcely been shaken. Exit polls indicated 70 per cent of all white evangelicals voted for Republican Congressional candidates in America's recent midterm elections, a decline of a mere 2 per cent from 2004. The Congressional balance has tipped to the left, but most evangelicals appear to be as conservative as ever.
To say the United States is a religious country is an understatement. According to polls, an estimated 47 per cent of American adults claim to be "born-again" or evangelical. Fifty-nine per cent believe that the Apocalypse prophesied in the book of Revelations (omega) will come true. There's a $25m (£12.7m) Christian museum being built in Kentucky, which will teach children that their ancestors played with dinosaurs in the days of Noah. An exhibit in this soon-to-open Creation Museum will feature a life-sized triceratops fitted with a riding saddle.
But the reach of the religious right extends well beyond the Wal-Mart-sized megachurches speckling the heartland. Much of the political leadership on Capitol Hill claim to be evangelical as well. George W Bush, after all, reportedly became born-again after being meeting Arthur Blessitt, a travelling preacher who carried a 12ft cross across the United States. In 2004, 42 Senators received perfect scores from the Christian Coalition, meaning they voted the way the religious right wanted them to 100 per cent of the time. There's even an evangelical college on the outskirts of Washington - Patrick Henry College, the so-called "Harvard for Homeschoolers" - that has been securing high-level staff jobs in Congress and the White House for its graduates. Students at Patrick Henry are all obliged to sign a statement of faith that claims non-Christians will be "confined in conscious torment for eternity".
Still, worry as secularists may, the US hasn't become more religious. According to most reports, church membership has actually remained constant for the last several decades. The change that has taken place among evangelicals is their dramatic shift to the right politically, with church attendance being the number-one indicator of party alliance in the US. According to a Gallup Poll, people who attend church at least once a week are nearly guaranteed to vote Republican.
Clearly the Haggard scandal was the perfect opportunity for evangelicals to abandon partisanship and reposition their focus away from sexual issues. Their opportunity to embrace a broader social agenda that included moral issues such as poverty, Aids, and the environment. Some already have.
Megachurch pastor Rick Warren has long been up to the challenge. A vocal advocate of broadening the religious right's social agenda and breaking out of the pro-family shell, Warren's been conducting HIV tests at his church to encourage evangelicals to get involved with the global Aids pandemic. Frustratingly, instead of following his lead, many conservative evangelicals criticised the pastor earlier this month for inviting Democratic Senator Barack Obama to address the pandemic at his church, since Obama is pro-choice.
At the same time, North Carolina's Baptist State Convention has stayed the pro-family course by continuing to obsess over homosexuality. It has passed stringent new guidelines in regard to homosexuality that stop just shy of ousting pastors who've ever listened to an Elton John song.
Most tellingly, a few days after the Haggard scandal broke it was announced that the disgraced pastor was to undergo an intensive anti-gay "restoration" programme, overseen in part by HB London, a representative from the pro-family ministry Focus on the Family. London's credentials include having written the book Love Wins Out, which teaches that homosexuality is a sickness that can be cured. (Incidentally, the founding director of Focus on the Family's own "ex-gay" programme, John Paulk, was the subject of another scandal several years ago when he was spotted in a gay nightclub.)
Those who try to remedy the religious right's pro-family tunnel vision, like Warren, are often met with staunch resistance from its established leaders. The president-elect of the Christian Coalition of America, Joel Hunter, stepped down this month, citing his frustration at the group's refusal to adopt a broader social agenda. In his letter of resignation he wrote "I wanted to expand the issues from only moral ones - such as opposing abortion and redefining marriage - to include compassion issues, such as poverty, justice and creation care."
Hunter told the New York Times that the leadership at the Christian Coalition told him that getting proactive about global warming, poverty, and Aids "just isn't for us" because "it won't speak to our base".
Evidently, the Jesus who the religious right prays to is more concerned with boycotting Hollywood for releasing Brokeback Mountain than with feeding the hungry or global warming.
This dramatic shift to the right among evangelicals in America formally began in the late 1970s when fundamentalist Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell founded the Christian political action committee The Moral Majority, to mobilise Christians away from Jimmy Carter, a self-proclaimed evangelical president who many Christians loathed given his comparatively liberal stance on "values" issues such as abortion and women's rights.
With his iconic rally cry "get 'em saved, get 'em baptised, get 'em registered," Falwell's Moral Majority emerged on the political scene and began recruiting tens of millions of conservative voters from the nation's churches, a trend that continues today.
At the time, Falwell's decision to politically mobilise the church was a bold one. Many evangelicals believed that politics should be the domain of politicians, not fire-and-brimstone pastors. However, Falwell found encouragement from key Republican insiders such as Paul Weyrich, the so-called father of the religious right. In addition to being a socially conservative Catholic, Weyrich was the founder of the Heritage Foundation, the think-tank that is credited for creating the blueprint for the pro-business, trickle-down tax ideology that has come to define the Republican Party.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan became the first President to come to power with the help of what has come to be known as the religious right. And pro-business Republicans and the religious right have been dancing hand-in-hand ever since. Explaining this curious alliance, Mark Noll, the author of America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln, claims that (omega) the politically conservative evangelical movement that began in the 1970s is an "American brand of Protestant Christianity". He's right. After all, Jesus didn't give too many sermons on trickle-down economics and, if he were to return today, he'd assuredly be more concerned with the war in Iraq than the "war on Christmas".
"The best public contribution of religion," writes Jim Wallis in his best-selling book God's Politics, "is precisely not to be ideologically predictable or a loyal partisan."
The unofficial spokesperson for the evangelical left in America and head of the social justice organisation Sojourners/Call to Renewal, Wallis's message is that equating your faith with the pro-family movement, Bush's pre-emptive war policy, and the divisive goals of the religious right is dangerous to Christianity.
"How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American?" asks Wallis, noting that the Bible mentions helping the poor 3,000 times. Notably, there are precisely zero Bible passages about abortion, waterboarding, or a citizen's God-given right to own a semi-automatic weapon.
Wallis's message has begun to resonate with some progressive Christians who feel that their faith has been hijacked by the religious right and conservative evangelicals who are more obsessed with banning "demonic" Harry Potter books than social activism.
When George Bush, for instance, visited the Michigan-based Christian university Calvin College last year to deliver a speech, he expected to be met by a receptive crowd of the religious right. Instead, just prior to the speech, a professor at Calvin surprised many by publishing a letter in the local paper in protest at Bush's visit. Even more surprising, given the College's conservative evangelical credentials, the letter was signed by a third of Calvin's staff and over 100 members of its student body. "As Christians," the letter stated, "we believe [the Bush] administration has... launched an unjust and unjustified war... has taken actions that favour the wealthy... has fostered intolerance and divisiveness... [and] we believe your environmental policies have harmed creation."
On the day of Bush's commencement, approximately a quarter of the student body wore badges attached to their gowns that cited Wallis's signature phrase: "God is not a Republican or a Democrat."
Acknowledging the dissenting voice among evangelicals that Wallis has come to embody, John Green, senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, says there is "an enormous amount of debate" among evangelicals about the narrow agenda of the religious right.
"People like Wallis who want a broader agenda," says Green, "believe that evangelicals can be influential on a lot of different social issues. Those who believe the agenda should stay narrow are afraid that getting involved in protecting the environment or helping the poor will dilute their strength on what they regard as the important issues: abortion and same-sex marriage."
Green says that it's too soon to know which side will prevail, but says: "The leaders who want a broader agenda have not yet moved a majority of the rank-and-file evangelicals to their side."
When Ted Haggard was outed by his own John in November, the illicit details of his decades-long dance with "devastating sin" were forced out of the closet. He quickly resigned his post as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, a 30m-member coalition of evangelical churches. He was asked to step down as pastor of New Life Church.
The tell-all confessions provided by his former lover - Haggard apparently fantasised about gay orgies and allegedly took methamphetamine before having sex with his wife - were undoubtedly devastating to Haggard's wife and five children.
As icing on the cake, Haggard's muscle-bound lover, Mike Jones, even criticised Pastor Ted's skills in the bedroom on the Michelangelo Signorile radio show. "I can't say he was very good at it," said Jones.
The day the scandal broke, I decided to contact a New Life congregant I'd met while visiting Colorado Springs, a 30-year-old evangelical I'll call Anthony. I was curious to see how Anthony and the New Life congregation were responding to the fall-out. Anthony, who shared Haggard's pro-family politics and had even equated gay sex with bestiality, had previously confessed to me that he considered Haggard to be his spiritual mentor. Could Haggard's betrayal open the door for more acceptance of homosexuality at New Life, I wondered?
When I contacted Anthony, he told me Haggard's accuser was assuredly a phony. An opportunist who was simply playing politics. After all, many states were about to vote on whether to officially define marriage as being between a man and a woman.
As the facts began to unfold and Haggard confessed to being "a deceiver and a liar", I contacted Anthony again and quickly found a reply in my inbox.
Evidently, Haggard's confession and prompt resignation had forced Anthony to accept the hypocrisy of his spiritual guru. He opened his email to me by apologising for Haggard's actions. I felt this unnecessary; it was not Anthony who had lied.
"The reason why there was so much shame associated in this," his email went on, "is because it was a homosexual encounter."
What about Haggard's wife and children, I wanted to ask? What about the shamefulness of his hypocrisy? Still, I knew such questions were pointless. Like most evangelicals I'd met at New Life Church, Anthony's "pro-family" tunnel vision had caused him to lose perspective of the larger picture.
The 2008 presidential elections are still a long two years away, but the front-running candidates are already beginning to position themselves. Given the power of the religious right in America, that includes trying to appeal to white evangelicals.
Moderate Republican Senator John McCain has expressed interest in running. Even though McCain has traditionally been critical of the religious right (he referred to Jerry Falwell as an "agent of intolerance" in 2000), he's begun to embrace some of their more controversial players. This year, McCain delivered the commencement speech at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and even hired the debating coach from this fundamentalist Christian university as an advisor.
The presumed Democratic presidential frontrunner, Senator Hillary Clinton, has been working to appeal to the religious right too. Recently, Clinton has been voicing support for Bush's faith-based initiatives and softening her language on abortion, which she recently called a "sad, even tragic choice to many, many women". Hillary is apparently ignoring Falwell's claim the only thing that would better "motivate conservative evangelical Christians to vote Republican" would be "a run by the devil himself".
The religious right's current candidate of choice is Republican Senator Sam Brownback, a Roman Catholic who is giving "prayerful consideration" to a bid in 2008. The loyally pro-family candidate for "foetal citizens", Brownback has called abortion the contemporary "holocaust". Brownback opposes gay marriage, assisted suicide, stem-cell research, and famously washed the feet of one of his aides, a symbolic reference to Christ. Most strikingly, Brownback is the co-sponsor of the proposed Constitution Restoration Act. This theocratic piece of legislation is an attempt to bar the federal courts from making rulings on cases that involve faith, such as prayer in school. The bill confirms "God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government."
So when Brownback shared a stage with Democrat Senator Barack Obama (who, like Brownback, had just confirmed his interest in potentially running for president in 2008) at Pastor Rick Warren's Aids conference earlier this month, Obama's attendance stirred controversy, but no one protested Brownback's invitation to speak at the event.
Brownback greeted Obama with a teasing, "Welcome to my house," acknowledging the Democratic party's perceived religion deficit.
"There is one thing I've got to say, Sam," retorted Obama. "This is my house, too. This is God's house."
Whether the evangelical community will come to agree with Obama, or any Democratic politician for that matter, is something only God can predict.
Robert Lanham is the author of 'The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right' and 'The Hipster Handbook', and is the founder of the blog www.evangelicalright.com
God squad: the religious right's key players
James Dobson, The Protestant Pope
The founder of the Colorado Springs-based ministry Focus on the Family - which receives so much mail it has its own postal code - Dobson is the US's most powerful evangelical leader. The ministry's pro-family videos, newsletters, books, and radio show reach more than 200m people daily. Tellingly, Dobson was privy to inside information on Bush's Supreme Court nominees weeks before most members of Congress. Not to be outdone by the Rev Jerry Falwell, who accused the Teletubby Tinky Winky of being gay, Dobson has publicly questioned the sexuality of SpongeBob Squarepants.
Tim LaHaye, The evangelical Stephen King
The Religious Right's patron saint of Armageddon paranoia. His best-selling books have sold 62m-plus copies and have popularised the concept of the "Rapture" - the belief that Christians will soon be whisked away into heaven while the non-Christians are all left behind. After the Rapture, LaHaye instructs, the antichrist will rule the earth and reside in a temple Saddam Hussein supposedly built in Iraq using an endowment given to him by a "sun worshipper". This co-founder of the Moral Majority also authored a sex manual that argues that Christian women are "more orgasmic".
Pat Robertson, The Tourettes-vangelist
This former presidential candidate is the host of the world's most-watched Christian show, The 700 Club. When he's not founding influential evangelical groups, Robertson calls for the assassination of world leaders, as he recently did for Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela. His Christian charity, Operation Blessing, receives $14.4m annually in federal funding, under Bush's faith-based initiatives plan. Recently, Robertson was scrutinised for claiming that his patented "age-defying protein shake" enabled him to leg-press 2,000 pounds. Robertson's latest project - the construction of a Christian theme park in Israel - was placed on hold when he infuriated Israeli leaders by claiming that Ariel Sharon's stroke was "God's punishment".
Roy Moore, The Ten Commandments Judge
Alabama's so-called "Ten Commandments Judge" (below) caused a stir when he defied a court order to have the 5,000lb Ten Commandments monument removed from his courthouse. Protestors camped outside for days to protest the removal of "Roy's Rock". When Moore's fanclub finally left in defeat, "the limestone steps had to be pressure-washed" reports Atlantic Monthly, "to remove the smell of urine." Moore has become the unofficial spokesperson for Christian "Dominionism" in America; the belief that government should be based on biblical law.
John Hagee, The Zionist Goy
In his best-selling book Jerusalem Countdown, the Rev John Hagee argues for the necessity of a pre-emptive military strike on Iran to fulfil the biblical prophecies needed to bring about the Second Coming of Christ. A televangelist with an audience of millions, Hagee says Christians have a "biblical mandate" to protect Israel, insisting that the increased violence in the Jewish state is a sign that the Rapture is imminent. In 2006, Hagee founded the political lobby, Christians United for Israel, and has since enlisted many of America's top evangelical leaders as members.
Flocking in: the evangelical megachurches
Radiant Church Surprise, Arizona; members: 6,000
Radiant spends $16,000 annually on Krispy Kreme donuts. Pastor McFarland told the New York Times: ''We want the church to look like a mall, so you come in and say, 'Dude, where's the cinema?' "
Brentwood Baptist Church Houston, Texas; members: 12,000
Has its own McDonald's, complete with golden arches and a drive-thru.
Saddleback Church Lake Forest, California; members: 22,000
Pastor Rick Warren wrote the best-selling non-fiction book in the US's history: The Purpose Driven Life. Bar codes are assigned to babies in the nursery to avoid losing them.
The Potter's House Dallas, Texas; members: 28,000
Led by the influential African-American pastor, TD Jakes, it has its own publishing house, daily talk show, a prison ministry that broadcasts to over 260 prisons, and a recording studio that has produced a Grammy-award-winning record.
Lakewood Church Houston, Texas; members: 30,000
The largest megachurch in the US (top). Joel Osteen's church meets in the former home of the Houston Rockets and has already outgrown the arena. Plans have been discussed to "franchise" the church in other cities
Gay ex-escort Mike Jones has signed to write a sexually explicit memoir about his relationship with fallen evangelist Ted Haggard. ''It's going to review my encounters with Ted and other people who are similar,'' Jones told The Miami Herald today from New York.
''It's not a book about bashing Ted at all. It's humanizing him as a person with feelings and emotions and desires,'' Jones said. ``I'm going to be explicit as far as what happened in our encounters, but not to rip him apart or be mean to him. He's a man who has faults like all of us.''
Jones, 49, won't say how much the book deal is worth.
Just before the November election, the muscular massage therapist went public and told the world that he had a three-year relationship with Haggard -- married president of the 30-million member National Association of Evangelicals, a confidante of President Bush and a leader in the anti-gay political movement.
Haggard, 50, paid $200 cash per session, ''plus tips,'' said Jones, who said he also helped Haggard buy methamphetamine. READ IT ALL
Of course when it comes to other gay couples having kidsgay couples who aren't related to members of his inner circlehe's outraged. From the Washington Post
President Bush says he is happy for Mary Cheney, the openly gay daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, who revealed earlier this month that she is pregnant.
"I think Mary is going to be a loving soul to her child," Bush said in an interview with People magazine. "And I'm happy for her."
Bush was asked about Mary Cheney's pregnancy in light of his previous statements that a child ideally should be raised by in a family headed by a married father and mother.
White House press secretary Tony Snow said on Friday that Bush has not changed his mind. "But he also believes that every human life is sacred and that every child who comes into this world deserves love," Snow said. "And he believes that Mary Cheney's child will, in fact, have loving parents."
In a sixth-floor conference room of an office building near Nashville International Airport, Rodney Hatfield’s BlackBerry buzzed with an incoming e-mail: “The Lord placed a vision on our hearts of a skaters’ Bible. We really love the N.K.J.V. and would love to use this version. Who can I talk to regarding this? We hope to pack the study Bible with testimonies from pros, devotions, skating tips, etc.”
Hatfield is the vice-president of marketing for the Bible division of Thomas Nelson Publishers, and the N.K.J.V. (the New King James Version) is its best-selling translation. Thomas Nelson has a history stretching back to 1798, and, in the American market, it is by some measures the largest Christian publisher, the second-largest publisher of Bibles, and the ninth-largest publishing house of any kind. The e-mail was from a Florida skateboard ministry, and Hatfield read it impassively but not dismissively. After all, one of the company’s lead titles for the fall, “The Family Foundations Study Bible,” had its origins in a similarly unsolicited suggestion from an outsider. True, that source was more estimable (a major Christian retailer) and the idea less fanciful. But the general principle--that Scripture can be repackaged to meet the demands of an increasingly segmented market--is at the heart of the modern Bible-publishing industry.
The familiar observation that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time obscures a more startling fact: the Bible is the best-selling book of the year, every year. Calculating how many Bibles are sold in the United States is a virtually impossible task, but a conservative estimate is that in 2005 Americans purchased some twenty-five million Bibles--twice as many as the most recent Harry Potter book. The amount spent annually on Bibles has been put at more than half a billion dollars.
The popularization of the Bible entered a new phase in 2003, when Thomas Nelson created the BibleZine. Wayne Hastings described a meeting in which a young editor, who had conducted numerous focus groups and online surveys, presented the idea. “She brought in a variety of teen-girl magazines and threw them out on the table,” he recalled. “And then she threw a black bonded-leather Bible on the table and said, ‘Which would you rather read if you were sixteen years old?’ ” The result was “Revolve,” a New Testament that looked indistinguishable from a glossy girls’ magazine. The 2007 edition features cover lines like “Guys Speak Their Minds” and “Do U Rush to Crush?” Inside, the Gospels are surrounded by quizzes, photos of beaming teen-agers, and sidebars offering Bible-themed beauty secrets:
Have you ever had a white stain appear underneath the arms of your favorite dark blouse? Don’t freak out. You can quickly give deodorant spots the boot. Just grab a spare toothbrush, dampen with a little water and liquid soap, and gently scrub until the stain fades away. As you wash away the stain, praise God for cleansing us from all the wrong things we have done. (1 John 1:9) READ IT ALL
The article also mentions our favorite biblezine, Real. Here's our section on this bizarre "urban" Biblezine. From The Sinner's Guide:
Real is a Thomas Nelson biblezine for the hip-hop generation. It’s King James Meets Queen Latifah. Inside the authors warn against the evils of The Wu Tang Clans and Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony who they call “hellish,” while reassuring readers that Jesus knew how to “keep it real:”
“Did he [Jesus] only come for the rich folks in the suburbs or does he identify with folks on the street? Well, just look at his ancestors. He had a prostitute, a two-timing thug, and a player in his family tree. His mom and dad were exiles in Africa.... He kept his head up when the haters and pretenders took their best shots.”
What the hell happened? Where did we go wrong? How was Christianity co-opted by a political party? Why are Christians supporting laws that force others to live by their standards? The answers to these questions are integral to the survival of Christianity.
While the current state of Christianity might seem normal and business-as-usual to some, most see through the judgment and hypocrisy that has permeated the church for so long. People witness this and say to themselves, "Why would I want to be a part of that?" They are turned off by Christians and eventually, to Christianity altogether. We can't even count the number of times someone has given us a weird stare or completely brushed us off when they discover we work for a church.
So when did the focus of Christianity shift from the unconditional love and acceptance preached by Christ to the hate and condemnation spewed forth by certain groups today? Some say it was during the rise of Conservative Christianity in the early 1980s with political action groups like the Moral Majority. Others say it goes way back to the 300s, when Rome's Christian Emperor Constantine initiated a set of laws limiting the rights of Roman non-Christians. Regardless of the origin, one thing is crystal clear: It's not what Jesus stood for.
His parables and lessons were focused on love and forgiveness, a message of "come as you are, not as you should be." The bulk of his time was spent preaching about helping the poor and those who are unable to help themselves. At the very least, Christians should be counted on to lend a helping hand to the poor and others in need.
This brings us to the big issues of American Christianity: Abortion and gay marriage. These two highly debatable topics will not be going away anytime soon. Obviously, the discussion centers around whether they are right or wrong, but is the screaming really necessary? After years of witnessing the dark side of religion, Marc and I think not.
Christians should be able to look past their differences and agree to disagree. This allows people to discuss issues with respect for one another. Christians are called to love others just as they are, without an agenda. Only then will Christianity see a return to its roots: Loving God with all of your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself.
The Apostle Paul describes this idea of love beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: "Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance."
But don't take our word for it; look at what Jesus and his followers stood for in his time and what Christianity stands for today. Then come to your own conclusion.
With New Jersey’s Legislature set to vote Thursday to establish civil unions rather than same-sex marriages, it remains unclear whether this approach can actually fulfill the mandate from the state’s Supreme Court to guarantee the same rights and benefits for gay and straight couples.
The New Jersey State Bar Association is one of several organizations that have criticized the proposed civil union law, saying in a statement that it “will create a separate, unequal and unnecessarily complex legal scheme” that does not satisfy the Supreme Court’s directive. READ IT ALL.
Last month Keith (Hakim Mohammad) Ellison of Minnesota became the first Muslim elected to serve in the United States Congress and shocked many Americans by declaring that he would take his oath of office by placing his hand on the Quran rather than the Bible. Can a true believer in the Islamic doctrine found in the Quran swear allegiance to our Constitution? Those who profess a sincere belief in Allah say "no!"...
The Islamic faith rejects our God and believes that the state must mandate the worship of its own god, Allah...
Enough evidence exists for Congress to question Ellison's qualifications to be a member of Congress as well as his commitment to the Constitution in view of his apparent determination to embrace the Quran and an Islamic philosophy directly contrary to the principles of the Constitution. But common sense alone dictates that in the midst of a war with Islamic terrorists we should not place someone in a position of great power who shares their doctrine. In 1943, we would never have allowed a member of Congress to take their oath on "Mein Kampf," or someone in the 1950s to swear allegiance to the "Communist Manifesto." Congress has the authority and should act to prohibit Ellison from taking the congressional oath today!
Jay Bakkerthe son of Jim and Tammyis the star of a new documentary series that will be premiering tonight on Sundance. One Punk Under God is riveting and definitely must-see TV. Plus, Jay is a great guy with a very progressive ministry. We've had the pleasure of getting to know him, now that he lives in Brooklyn and holds a weekly service in one of our favorite watering holes, Pete's Candy Store. If we believed in God, we'd be calling upon Jay to do our petitioning. The series will run through January on Wednesdays at 9 pm and its produced by the same people who brought you The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Also, you can download the first episode for free on iTunes.
Concerned Women for America Are Really Concerned About The War On Christmas
The War on Christmas
With the War On Christmas in full swing, the self-loathing fundamentalist group, Concerned Women for America, has released its Naughty or Nice list. (Because if Jesus were to return today he'd be more concerned the PR/marketing decisions of Kohl's than poverty or the War in Iraq). We'll make sure to visit the retailers on their naughty list. From CWA:
Many retailers learned the hard way last year that it just doesn't pay to mess with Christmas. Target, Wal-Mart, Macy's and Sears are among the stores that made a mid-season shift from the generic "Happy Holidays" to "Merry Christmas." Concerned Women for America's Naughty and Nice list kicks off the 2006 Christmas season with many stores - previously on the "Naughty list" or in the ambiguous middle - now squarely in the "Nice" category...
CWA will also be making a list and checking it twice. If you notice a retailer that is not acknowledging Christmas, or you see a retailer that should be commended, please contact CWA.
New! LL Bean - Released three Christmas catalogs this year!
Tractor Supply Co.
The Apple Store
TJX stores (TJ Maxx, Marshall's, HomeGoods, A.J. Wright, Bob's stores)
SuperD Drug Stores
Linens 'N Things
Farmer Jack (grocery)
Stater Brothers (grocery)
Christian Brothers Automotive
Bath & Body Works
Best Buy - steadfastly refuses to mention Christmas
Home Depot - still hiding behind the "holiday" trees
Lowe's - clerks will only say "Merry Christmas" when it is customer initiated
Plow & Hearth - you might find Christmas in the fine print
Crate & Barrel
Eddie Bauer - doesn't want to offend anyone
Toys 'R' Us
Bed, Bath & Beyond
Dick's Sporting Goods
Soy & Tofu: Turning America's Children Into Homosexuals
At least according to the rightwing columnist, Jim Rutz. And we thought being gay was something people chose to do. From WorldNetDaily
Soy is making kids 'gay'
There's a slow poison out there that's severely damaging our children and threatening to tear apart our culture. The ironic part is, it's a "health food," one of our most popular.
Now, I'm a health-food guy, a fanatic who seldom allows anything into his kitchen unless it's organic. I state my bias here just so you'll know I'm not anti-health food. The dangerous food I'm speaking of is soy. Soybean products are feminizing, and they're all over the place. You can hardly escape them anymore.
I have nothing against an occasional soy snack. Soy is nutritious and contains lots of good things. Unfortunately, when you eat or drink a lot of soy stuff, you're also getting substantial quantities of estrogens.
Estrogens are female hormones. If you're a woman, you're flooding your system with a substance it can't handle in surplus. If you're a man, you're suppressing your masculinity and stimulating your "female side," physically and mentally.
In fetal development, the default is being female. All humans (even in old age) tend toward femininity. The main thing that keeps men from diverging into the female pattern is testosterone, and testosterone is suppressed by an excess of estrogen.
If you're a grownup, you're already developed, and you're able to fight off some of the damaging effects of soy. Babies aren't so fortunate. Research is now showing that when you feed your baby soy formula, you're giving him or her the equivalent of five birth control pills a day. A baby's endocrine system just can't cope with that kind of massive assault, so some damage is inevitable. At the extreme, the damage can be fatal.
Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That's why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today's rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products. (Most babies are bottle-fed during some part of their infancy, and one-fourth of them are getting soy milk!) Homosexuals often argue that their homosexuality is inborn because "I can't remember a time when I wasn't homosexual." No, homosexuality is always deviant. But now many of them can truthfully say that they can't remember a time when excess estrogen wasn't influencing them.
Doctors used to hope soy would reduce hot flashes, prevent cancer and heart disease, and save millions in the Third World from starvation. That was before they knew much about long-term soy use. Now we know it's a classic example of a cure that's worse than the disease. For example, if your baby gets colic from cow's milk, do you switch him to soy milk? Don't even think about it. His phytoestrogen level will jump to 20 times normal. If he is a she, brace yourself for watching her reach menarche as young as seven, robbing her of years of childhood. If he is a boy, it's far worse: He may not reach puberty till much later than normal.
Research in 2000 showed that a soy-based diet at any age can lead to a weak thyroid, which commonly produces heart problems and excess fat. Could this explain the dramatic increase in obesity today?
Recent research on rats shows testicular atrophy, infertility and uterus hypertrophy (enlargement). This helps explain the infertility epidemic and the sudden growth in fertility clinics. But alas, by the time a soy-damaged infant has grown to adulthood and wants to marry, it's too late to get fixed by a fertility clinic.
Worse, there's now scientific evidence that estrogen ingredients in soy products may be boosting the rapidly rising incidence of leukemia in children. In the latest year we have numbers for, new cases in the U.S. jumped 27 percent. In one year!
There's also a serious connection between soy and cancer in adults – especially breast cancer. That's why the governments of Israel, the UK, France and New Zealand are already cracking down hard on soy.
In sad contrast, 60 percent of the refined foods in U.S. supermarkets now contain soy. Worse, soy use may double in the next few years because (last I heard) the out-of-touch medicrats in the FDA hierarchy are considering allowing manufacturers of cereal, energy bars, fake milk, fake yogurt, etc., to claim that "soy prevents cancer." It doesn't.
P.S.: Soy sauce is fine. Unlike soy milk, it's perfectly safe because it's fermented, which changes its molecular structure. Miso, natto and tempeh are also OK, but avoid tofu.
The founding pastor of a second Colorado church has resigned over gay sex allegations, just weeks after the evangelical community was shaken by the scandal surrounding megachurch leader Ted Haggard. Haggard, a gay-marriage opponent, admitted to unspecified "sexual immorality" when he resigned last month as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs. A male prostitute had said he had had sex with Haggard for three years.
On Sunday, Paul Barnes, founding pastor of the 2,100-member Grace Chapel in this Denver suburb, told his evangelical congregation in a videotaped message he had had sexual relations with other men and was stepping down.
Dave Palmer, associate pastor of Grace Chapel, told The Denver Post that Barnes confessed to him after the church received a call last week.
The church board of elders accepted Barnes' resignation on Thursday.
On the videotape, which The Post was allowed to view, Barnes told church members: "I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy. ... I can't tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away."
Barnes, 54, led Grace Chapel for 28 years. He and his wife have two adult children. Palmer said in a written statement that "While we cannot condone what he has done, we continue to support and love Paul."
A military watchdog group is asking the Defense Department to investigate whether seven Army and Air Force officers violated regulations by appearing in uniform in a promotional video for an evangelical Christian organization. In the video, much of which was filmed inside the Pentagon, four generals and three colonels praise the Christian Embassy, a group that evangelizes among military leaders, politicians and diplomats in Washington. Some of the officers describe their efforts to spread their faith within the military.
"I found a wonderful opportunity as a director on the joint staff, as I meet the people that come into my directorate," Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack J. Catton Jr. says in the video. "And I tell them right up front who Jack Catton is, and I start with the fact that I'm an old-fashioned American, and my first priority is my faith in God, then my family and then country. I share my faith because it describes who I am."
Pete Geren, a former acting secretary of the Air Force who oversaw the service's response in 2005 to accusations that evangelical Christians were pressuring cadets at the Air Force Academy, also appears in the video. The Christian Embassy "has been a rock that I can rely on, been an organization that helped me in my walk with Christ, and I'm just thankful for the service they give," he says.
The 10-minute video is on the group's Web site, Christianembassy.com. The organization was founded nearly 30 years ago by the late Bill Bright, who also founded Campus Crusade for Christ. The Christian Embassy Web site says the group holds prayer breakfasts each Wednesday in the Pentagon's executive dining room and organizes small groups to help military leaders "bridge the gap between faith and work."
Army Brig. Gen. Bob Casen refers in the video to the Christian Embassy's special efforts to reach admirals and generals through Flag Fellowship groups. Whenever he sees another fellowship member, he says, "I immediately feel like I am being held accountable, because we are the aroma of Jesus Christ." READ IT ALL
ON the second Sunday after Halloween, the novelist Anne Rice, the film producer David Kirkpatrick and a car full of other Christians rolled through Rancho Mirage in the Southern California desert, on their way to church.
Ms. Rice and Mr. Kirkpatrick were raised Roman Catholics but for much of their adulthood strayed far from their faith. She wrote erotic novels and occult-themed thrillers like “The Vampire Chronicles” -- books that have sold more than 85 million copies. He was president of both Paramount and Disney and an independent producer of films like “The Opposite of Sex,” living in a $3.5 million house in Beverly Hills where he held Christmas parties featuring manufactured snow and real reindeer.
Independently, they both became born-again Christians and, eventually, a somewhat unlikely — or, as they believe, divinely ordained — pair of collaborators. After announcing in 2003 that she would no longer “approach the altar of God in convolution” by writing books about vampires, Ms. Rice in 2005 published “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” the first of several planned novels about Jesus. At around the same time, Mr. Kirkpatrick became one of the founders of the Christian multimedia company Good News Holdings, which later purchased the film rights to “Christ the Lord” and plans to make the movie for about $40 million.
On this Sunday morning, Mr. Kirkpatrick had come to the desert to worship with Ms. Rice and, after church, to hear a group of actors read her screenplay for “Christ the Lord.” Though she had finished the script’s first draft just days earlier, Mr. Kirkpatrick was already brainstorming the movie’s marketing strategy on the ride to Mass. “Will you give me permission to go to the six top evangelical groups and show it to them first?” he asked.
Without waiting for an answer, he explained, “I don’t want a repeat of what happened on ‘Last Temptation,’ where I had to go out and haul burning crosses off the Paramount lawn.” (That was when Paramount was merely considering “The Last Temptation of Christ,” Martin Scorsese’s controversial look at the Gospels. The film eventually landed at Universal.)
Mr. Kirkpatrick, 55, who has a passion for Hollywood palace intrigue, is a font of such brusque, knowing anecdotes. At times he readily admits his worldly inclinations, and at other times he denies them. (One evening, after describing drug-fueled, sexually adventurous weekends with other studio heads and movie stars — “Now, this was in the age of Quaaludes,” began one story -- Mr. Kirkpatrick insisted that he did not like to gossip.)
When describing his salvation, Mr. Kirkpatrick manages to both minimize and exaggerate his former sins. What makes him unusual is that his story also reaches beyond his own life, toward the conversion of the culture at large. That project, which he views as a literal battle between unseen forces of good and evil, also requires a set of bargains -- with himself and with others -- as exacting as any deal he ever brokered back when he was, as he grandly puts it, “like ‘The Last Tycoon.’ ”
Ever since “The Passion of the Christ” grossed $371 million in 2004, Hollywood has been dreaming of capturing the Christian dollar. Only recently, New Line’s “Nativity Story,” the latest in a series of religious-themed films from mainstream studios, had its premiere at the Vatican and took in a modest $8 million at the domestic box office on its opening weekend.
But until now the studios have been largely unsuccessful with Christian films because, as Mr. Kirkpatrick sees it, most executives do not know very much about Christianity. He said one studio head asked him how he came up with the name Good News Holdings. Bemused, Mr. Kirkpatrick told him, “Gospel means ‘good news.’ ”
Walden Media and Bristol Bay Productions, both owned by Philip F. Anschutz, a Colorado billionaire and a Christian, have made several Christian-themed films, including “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and the forthcoming “Amazing Grace.” But the company does not have a specifically religious mandate. Last year, Fox created a division called FoxFaith, but its plans to produce a handful of low-budget films each year are notably modest.
By contrast, Good News Holdings describes itself as “advancing the kingdom of God” with an ambitious range of media endeavors, financed and supported by some of the most prominent and politically connected conservative Christian groups in the United States.
In addition to films -- including a planned series of Christian horror movies -- Mr. Kirkpatrick says the company will introduce a channel on DirecTV next year, with investments from John Ashcroft and News Corporation, among others. Test runs began this fall on an Internet Protocol Television Platform (a digital television delivery system) called the Cloud, with partners including the Christian men’s group Promise Keepers and Mothers of Preschoolers, a group of three million Christian women.
FaithMobile, the company’s subscription mobile content provider, delivers Bible verses via text message, as well as inspirational cellphone ringtones, screen savers and other content. An Internet community for churches called Lights Together offers tools for organizing prayer groups, Christian dating and much more.
Good News Holdings plans to build a $150 million television and film studio near Boston. And in partnership with Tyndale House, the Christian publisher of the “Left Behind” series, the company will publish novels that it intends to turn into movies. Mr. Kirkpatrick said he hoped that Harper Lee would give her blessing to calling this venture the Atticus Project, after the protagonist of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” because he wanted “to get authors to write more moral characters like that one, so we can make movies about them.”
When Mr. Kirkpatrick describes the company’s mission, he often quotes its chairman, George Barna. A slender 50-year-old with riveting blue eyes, Mr. Barna is a pollster and author who contends that American Christians have lost touch with the Bible.
“Only 9 percent of all born-again adults have a biblical worldview, and only about 2 percent of all born-again teenagers do,” he explained in the conference room of the Good News Holdings office in Sherman Oaks. (Mr. Barna has written that a biblical worldview requires belief in “six specific religious views,” including “Jesus Christ lived a sinless life” and “Satan is real.”)
Mr. Barna, whose studies indicate that the mass media have more influence on Christians’ values than local churches do and that spiritual character is substantially formed by early adolescence, contends that deploying the power of the mass media to help save children’s and teenagers’ souls is a critical cultural battle that Christians must fight.
Among these like-minded allies, some differences remain about the dimensions of that fight. Mr. Barna, for instance, said in an interview: “We’re not planning to promote homosexuality. Anything that is sinful, we can’t promote.” Meanwhile, Ms. Rice, whose son, Christopher, is openly gay, has maintained there is nothing sinful about homosexuality — a view that led Tyndale House to rescind an offer to publish books related to “Christ the Lord,” the movie. Janis Long Harris, the company’s associate publisher, said that Ms. Rice’s beliefs about homosexuality were “certainly a component” of its decision.
As Mr. Kirkpatrick sees it, leading movie audiences to salvation involves one obvious tactic: Christian horror movies. The inevitable journey toward that conclusion began long ago, when he had a knack for developing teen movies at Paramount and Disney. He helped produce hits like “Grease,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “Dead Poets Society,” “Top Gun” and the “Friday the 13th” franchise. His mentors included some of the industry’s most powerful executives: Michael Eisner, Barry Diller and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Eisner remembered Mr. Kirkpatrick as “creative, thoughtful, hard-working, committed — and eager, for sure.”
Along the way, Mr. Kirkpatrick enjoyed the spoils of success, like a white Cadillac that he says Harrison Ford “called my ‘Reverend Ike’ car.” For 10 years, he said, he did not see the inside of a grocery store. Like many of his colleagues, he threw tantrums at the office. He was so reviled that, he claims, “Bob Altman based ‘The Player’ on me,” because he refused to make two of Mr. Altman’s films. (He later admitted that Michael Tolkin, who wrote the novel on which the 1992 film was based, did not have him in mind; the week before his death, Mr. Altman declined to comment on the matter.) When Mr. Kirkpatrick left Paramount, he says, the studio head, Stanley Jaffe, had his furniture thrown out on the lawn. (Mr. Jaffe did not respond to an interview request.)
Then he started his own production company, Original Voices, and made some acclaimed films, like “Big Night” (1996), with backing from German investors. But the investors fell into default, and Mr. Kirkpatrick poured his own money into the company to stay in the game, with films like “Bruno” (2000), starring and directed by Shirley MacLaine.
At his lowest, Mr. Kirkpatrick said, he still had $50,000 a year in income from various sources. His conversion did not happen in a flash, like Saul’s on the road to Damascus; instead, he said, it was “a process.” He went to the Abbey of Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery in Kentucky made famous in the 1960s by Thomas Merton, for a couple of silent retreats, and became fascinated by contemplative prayer. With Judge and Amy Reinhold, he made a documentary on the subject for FoxFaith called “Be Still,” released on home video this year. His prayer life became increasingly concerned with “spiritual warfare.”
The phrase describes a worldview that interprets human thoughts and actions as the product of unseen battles between angels and demons. Frank Peretti’s 1986 novel “This Present Darkness,” a best-selling Christian thriller, made spiritual warfare a popular notion among evangelicals, who cite as evidence for their belief verses from Chapter 6 of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, particularly Verse 12: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
During several days of interviews, Mr. Kirkpatrick quoted from Ephesians 6 more often than any other passage in the Bible. Some of the verses also appear on a large poster covering the wall next to the main door of the Good News Holdings office. And they inspired the company’s “Dudleytown” series of Christian horror novels (to be published by Thomas Nelson) and films, named for a now-abandoned town in Connecticut that was said to be cursed. Mr. Kirkpatrick said that “the Weinstein Company’s faith-based initiative” is eager to become involved with the first “Dudleytown” film. (A spokeswoman for the Weinstein Company declined to comment on discussions with Good News Holdings but said the company would soon announce further details about “entering the faith-based market.”)
Greg Michael, who will write and direct the first film, called “Dudleytown,” said one of the characters, a sexually active teenage girl who mutilates herself with knives, begins hearing demonic voices as a child while playing with Barbie dolls and is ultimately taunted by the demons into driving a pair of scissors through her heart. “Just as God has a plan for our good, to prosper us and not harm us, so Satan or the forces of evil also have a plan to destroy us,” he explained. “The premise of the film is that these plans are real.”
Citing Mr. Barna’s research again, Mr. Kirkpatrick said that teenagers make up 95 percent of the audience for horror movies: “We thought, what a great way to evangelize a message of goodness, by using darkness as the antithesis to it. And actually showing a man triumphing over evil through the course of a story, which still needs to deliver all the whistles and bells of scares.”
The families who own property in Cornwall Bridge, Conn., where Dudleytown once stood, want Good News Holdings to find another way to evangelize. Legal representatives of the residential association Dark Entry Forest Inc. sent the company a cease-and-desist letter, forbidding Good News Holdings from proceeding with its project and explaining that publicity would bring more ghost hunters to the neighborhood.
Mr. Kirkpatrick said he believed the letter was a salvo in the spiritual war that seeks to thwart his company’s ministry. He said that one of his business partners at Good News Holdings, Christopher Chisholm, a founder of E! Entertainment Networks, read the letter and then “crawled under his desk and went to sleep for five hours.”
Repeatedly, Mr. Kirkpatrick also said that Mr. Chisholm remarked, “If somebody isn’t puking around here, we’re not doing our job.” It has become an office motto.
Suburb Objects To Mosque, Threatens To Hold Pig Races To Offend Muslims
From the AP
KATY, Texas - A plan to build a mosque in this Houston suburb has triggered a neighborhood dispute, with community members warning the place will become a terrorist hotbed and one man threatening to hold pig races on Fridays just to offend the Muslims.
Many neighborhood residents claim they have nothing against Muslims and are more concerned about property values, drainage and traffic.
But one resident has set up an anti-Islamic Web site with an odometer-like counter that keeps track of terrorist attacks since Sept. 11. A committee has formed to buy another property and offer to trade it for the Muslims' land. And next-door neighbor Craig Baker has threatened to race pigs on the edge of the property on the Muslim holy day. Muslims consider pigs unclean and do not eat pork.
"The neighbors have created havoc for us and we didn't expect that," said engineer Kamel Fotouh, president of the 500-member Katy Islamic Association....
The dispute began when the group asked Baker to remove his cattle from their newly bought land. Baker agreed but mistakenly thought the Muslims also wanted him off the land his family has lived on for more than 100 years. The rumor spread.
Baker, who makes marble and granite fixtures for kitchens and bathrooms and also owns livestock, said he got so mad he put up a sign announcing the pig races.
(Baker's attempt to offend missed its mark, according to Fotouh. Muslims do not hate pigs, he said; they just don't eat them.)
As for the Web site, the address is virtually identical to that of the Katy Islamic Association. The site claims the neighbors will have to hear the Muslim call to prayer from the mosque's minaret five times a day -- the Islamic group denies that -- and offers an audio sample.
Besides keeping track of the running total of post-Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Web site provides home addresses of some association members and advises people who see anything suspicious to contact the
FBI. Many people have sent anti-Islamic e-mails to the site.
A few complaints about the mosque project have also trickled in to Harris County offices: The "Coming Soon" sign was on government property; the parking lot gravel was piled up without a permit; the project would increase traffic in the quiet neighborhood.
County Commissioner Steve Radack said traffic concerns can be addressed as they are elsewhere, with off-duty police officers. He also noted the group has said it would comply with rules on drainage and flood control.
Cynthia Blackman wrote Radack that the center was a security risk: "Would you and your family safely and comfortably live next to this 11-acre Muslim mosque and facilities?"
The reaction has not been all negative. Fotouh said one man came to the mosque on a Friday afternoon and apologized for his neighbors. "He moved me, really," Fotouh said. "The sense of fairness, the sense of standing by the underdog."
Though he now concedes the Muslims are probably not after his land, Baker said he is obligated to go through with the pig races, probably within the next few weeks, because "I would be like a total idiot if I didn't. I'd be the laughingstock now because I've gone too far."
THE strobe lights pulse and the air vibrates to a killer rock beat. Giant screens show mayhem and gross-out pranks: a car wreck, a sucker punch, a flabby (and naked) rear end, sealed with duct tape.
Brad Stine runs onstage in ripped blue jeans, his shirt untucked, his long hair shaggy. He's a stand-up comic by trade, but he's here today as an evangelist, on a mission to build up a new Christian man -- one profanity at a time. "It's the wuss-ification of America that's getting us!" screeches Stine, 46.
A moment later he adds a fervent: "Thank you, Lord, for our testosterone!"
It's an apt anthem for a contrarian movement gaining momentum on the fringes of Christianity. In daybreak fraternity meetings and weekend paintball wars, in wilderness retreats and X-rated chats about lust, thousands of Christian men are reaching for more forceful, more rugged expressions of their faith.
Stine's daylong revival meeting, which he calls "GodMen," is cruder than most. But it's built around the same theory as the other experimental forums: Traditional church worship is emasculating. READ IT ALL
Just in time for Christmas, the religious right has released a violent video game in which born-again Christians aim to convert or kill those who don't adhere to their extreme ideology. Disturbingly, the game's apparent attempts at religious indoctrination are aimed at children and focus on violent, divisive, and hateful scenarios. While the religious right apparently has no problem pushing the product this holiday season, America's #1 video game seller should know better.
Mary Cheney, the vice president's openly gay daughter, is pregnant. She and her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe, are "ecstatic" about the baby, due in late spring, said a source close to the couple.
It's a baby boom for grandparents Dick and Lynne Cheney: Their older daughter, Elizabeth, went on leave as deputy assistant secretary of state before having her fifth child in July. "The vice president and Mrs. Cheney are looking forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of their sixth grandchild," spokesman Lea Anne McBride said last night.
And as Americablog points out, she lives in Virginia, which "pretty much guarantees that Mary's baby is screwed" since the state just passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions. More distrublingly: [From Americablog]
Mary's partner has no legal rights whatsoever in their child, or in what happens to Mary (or vice versa), such as if one partner has to go the hospital, the other can't visit. The law may even nullify any wills that Mary and Heather write regarding each other, and it may make it impossible for gay people to go to court to resolve any difference about anything - the courts can't recognize gay unions, so they can't make any decisions that would imply recognition (custody, hospital visitation, wills, etc.) It's beyond ironic that Virginia's new law, one of the most hateful, bigoted laws on the books, is now targeting the vice president's own daughter and soon-to-be new grandchild.
And does anybody remember Sharon Bottoms, a lesbian who "lost custody of her two-year-old son, Tyler, after her mother filed for custody based on the idea that Sharon, a lesbian, was unfit to be a parent."
The widow of a soldier killed in Afghanistan saw a Wiccan symbol placed on a memorial plaque for her husband Saturday, after fighting the federal government for more than a year over the emblem.
Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, and Wiccan leaders said it was the first government-issued memorial plaque with a Wiccan pentacle, a five-pointed star enclosed in a circle.
More than 50 friends and family dedicated the plaque at Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, Nev., about 45 miles east of Reno.
They praised Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) for his role in getting the Nevada Office of Veterans Services to issue the plaque in September. The agency cited its jurisdiction over the state veterans' cemetery.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has approved the symbols of 38 other faiths for use in national veterans' cemeteries; about half are versions of the Christian cross.
The Jewish Star of David, the Muslim crescent, the Buddhist wheel, the Mormon angel, the nine-pointed star of Bahai and an atomic whirl for atheists are also permitted, but not the pentacle.
VA officials have said they are rewriting rules for approving emblems, but the process requires a public comment period.
About 1,800 active-duty service members identify themselves as Wiccans, according to 2005 Defense Department statistics, and Wicca is one of the fastest-growing faiths in the country. Its adherents worship the Earth and believe they must give to the community. Some consider themselves "white" or good witches, pagans or neo-pagans.
Patrick Stewart and four other soldiers died Sept. 25, 2005, when their Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. He was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
A grass-roots protest fizzled yesterday after the controversial pastor of an evangelical megachurch in Seattle apologized for what critics say were demeaning comments about women.
After being confronted by other local religious leaders, Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church said he was sorry.
"We believe we have a meaningful and sincere apology for the inflammatory remarks he's made," said Paul Chapman, a member of People Against Fundamentalism, whose half-dozen core members are Christians. "He's pledged to change his language and tone without giving up on his theological convictions, which is fine."
Chapman said protest organizers also achieved a second goal: The Seattle Times discontinued Driscoll as a religion columnist, although the newspaper said the decision had nothing to do with the protest.
The recent furor -- whipped up with a heated online debate -- was sparked by Driscoll's remarks after national evangelical leader Ted Haggard admitted he had bought drugs from a male prostitute.
"It is not uncommon to meet pastors' wives who really let themselves go," Driscoll wrote on a personal blog. "A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband ... is not responsible for her husband's sin, but she may not be helping him either."
"I want to be clear that I am not speaking for the Democratic Party, but as a person of faith who feels the hunger in America for a new vision of our life together, and sees the opportunity to apply our best moral values to the urgent problems we face," the Rev. Jim Wallis said in his remarks...
"We need serious solutions, not the scapegoating of others," Wallis said. "The path of partisan division is well worn, but the road of compassionate priorities and social justice will lead us to a new America."
In a statement, incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he chose Wallis to give the address, usually reserved for politicians, "in the spirit of bipartisanship."
Wallis heads a ministry in Washington called Sojourners and has been widely viewed as part of the religious left. He rejects that label and preaches the need to bring the nation to "a moral center."
Reid called Wallis nonpartisan.
Street Prophets sounds off here. As they point out "the whole point of the exercise is to be, you know, partisan."
A public high school teacher lectures his history class that they will go to hell if they don't accept Jesus. A student gives a recording of the lectures to school administrators -- who defend the teacher. The community turns against the student. This is not happening in Missouri or Oklahoma, but in Hudson County, New Jersey, a quick commute from Manhattan.
"This is just like a nightmare," the student's father, Paul LaClair told JewsOnFirst. in a telephone interview this weekend. He said that the Kearny School District has refused the family's request that school officials correct the statements he made to the class disparaging evolution and the Big Bang and favoring creationism.
During lectures in September teacher David Paszkiewicz, who, according to local news reports, also works as a Baptist youth pastor at a local church, told students that evolution is not scientific and claimed that there were dinosaurs on Noah's ark.
He also told them that if they did not accept Jesus, they belong in hell.
"I'm upset at him as a public school teacher, pushing it on students. They're too young," said Matthew LaClair, a 16-year-old junior at Kearny High School.
The Kearny School District serves the town of Kearny, population 40,000.
Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.
He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.
First, it is an act of hubris that perfectly exemplifies multiculturalist activism -- my culture trumps America's culture. What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book. READ IT ALL
Stallone spoke of being reborn in a teleconference with pastors and religious leaders concerning the faith elements of the unlikely sixth movie that's due out Dec. 22....
"No matter what, you can overcome your past... with help, if you look to God, you can overcome your past and be reborn."...
Stallone reminded those of us on the call that the opening shot of the original film is of a painting of Jesus looking down on Rocky in the boxing ring in a rundown gym. And no, I didn't have to go back to verify that, I already knew. But, I've long wondered why he chose to open with that. I never guessed Stallone himself would explain it to me, but this week he did -- oh, and to everybody else on the call....
He first explained that he felt compelled to write the first film, and he believes that drive came from above. He said the character of Rocky was meant to reflect the characteristic nature of Jesus.
"It's like he was being chosen, Jesus was over him, and he was going to be the fella that would live through the example of Christ," Stallone said. "He's very, very forgiving. There's no bitterness in him. He always turns the other cheek. And it's like his whole life was about service."....
So, what's next for Stallone?
I can only imagine Rambo sneaking into Burma to free Christian missionaries who are being held by militants. And, as the invincible one-man army looks into the eyes of the ordinary folks from Oklahoma and South Carolina who are risking their lives for the Gospel, he is swept up by their commitment.
I'm. Not. Kidding.
"It rekindles something in him. He doesn't believe at first, he's seen too much. He's bitter. But when he meets these people and looks into their eyes, he's swept up in it, and literally he's just taken on this journey," Stallone said. "He's a Christian warrior! Can you believe it?"
They've even set up a site devoted to using the movie as a church outreach tool. From RockyResources.com
This site is designed to provide useful tools to learn about Rocky Balboa, the final round in the award-winning Rocky franchise, and utilize the film as a teaching, preaching or outreach opportunity.
One of the first things House Democrats will do when they take command of Congress in January is reintroduce H.R. 810, the same embryonic stem-cell research bill President Bush vetoed earlier this year.
House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she wants the bill passed in the first 100 hours of business. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. -- the next Senate majority leader -- has pledged to have the Senate act on the bill before January is over. READ IT ALL