Scandals at the biggest Christian TV network

Christianity has a presence on television.  Unfortunately, its presence come from Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), a forum that presents a schlocky and embarrassing version of Christianity, its programming consisting mostly of “prosperity gospel” preachers.  It’s interesting how such ventures are so often accompanied by overt corruption and scandal.  From World Magazine:

A $50 million jet. Chauffeurs. Mansions in California and Florida. Clandestine affairs. Crimes and cover-up. Even a $100,000 motor home for the pet dog.

These are just a few of the allegations directed against the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and its directors in a pair of lawsuits filed in February by former employees of the nation’s largest Christian broadcasting network.

The first lawsuit, filed on Feb. 1 in U.S. District Court in California, contains charges by Brittany Koper, the former chief financial officer of TBN and the granddaughter of founders Paul and Janice Crouch. Her lawsuit is not against TBN but against Davert & Loe, one of TBN’s law firms. Koper’s suit says she discovered illegal activities when she became head of finance. Among the alleged activities: “the unlawful distribution of the TBN Companies’ charitable assets to Trinity Broadcasting’s directors,” some of whom are Crouch family members. The suit says “these unlawful financial transactions” exceed $50 million.

She took that information to Davert & Loe, seeking legal advice. The firm “acknowledged that the conduct in question was unlawful but nevertheless advised … Ms. Koper to perform and cover up such unlawful activities,” according to the lawsuit. The suit also says lawyers in the firm harassed her sexually. She seeks more than $500,000 in damages.

The other lawsuit is against Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, one of TBN’s corporate entities, as well as other TBN entities and Davert & Loe. Joseph McVeigh, Koper’s uncle, says TBN sued him in retaliation against Koper. A judge dismissed TBN’s claims against McVeigh, who now seeks legal fees and “punitive and exemplary damages.”

Both lawsuits paint a sordid picture of TBN, including allegations that Janice Crouch had an “affair with a staff member at the Holy Land Experience,” a TBN-owned amusement park in Florida. The suit also accuses Matthew Crouch, a TBN director and the son of Paul and Janice Crouch, of sexual and financial misconduct. Koper’s suit said that Matthew Crouch brought a gun to one meeting. He “began tapping the firearm … and asked Ms. Koper what she thought would happen [if] she wrote a memo to the board critical of Matthew Crouch’s financial improprieties.”

via WORLDmag.com | TBN again | Warren Cole Smith | Apr 07, 12.

Christianity and politics, reconsidered

E. J. Dionne is a Catholic who is liberal politically.  I wonder, though, if all sides could find some agreement in what he says about Christianity recognizing the “limits” of politics:

It’s hard not to notice that Christianity hasn’t been presented in its own best light during this election year because Christians have not exactly been putting forward their best selves.

My colleague Michael Gerson wrote recently about the “crude” way religion has played out in the Republican primaries, including “the systematic subordination of a rich tradition of social justice to a narrow and predictable political agenda.”

Gerson is exactly right, but I don’t propose to use his admirable column as an excuse to pile onto the religious right. Instead, I want to suggest that what should most bother Christians of all political persuasions is that there are right and wrong ways to apply religion to politics, and much that’s happening now involves the wrong ways. Moreover, popular Christianity often seems to denigrate rather than celebrate intellectual life and critical inquiry. This not only ignores Christian giants of philosophy and science but also plays into some of the very worst stereotypes inflicted upon religious believers.

What I’m not saying is that Christianity should be disengaged from politics. In fact, the early Christian movement was born in politics, in oppositional circles within Judaism fighting Roman oppression. There is great debate over how to understand the relationship between Jesus’s spirituality and his approach to politics, but his preaching clearly challenged the powers-that-be. He was, after all, crucified.

But because Christians have a realistic and non-utopian view of human nature, they should be especially alive to the ambiguities and ambivalences of politics. The philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain captured this well in reflecting on Augustine’s writings. “If Augustine is a thorn in the side of those who would cure the universe once and for all,” she wrote, “he similarly torments critics who disdain any project of human community, or justice, or possibility.”

Christians, she’s saying, thus have a duty to grasp both the possibilities and the limits of politics. This, in turn, means that the absolutism so many associate with Christian engagement in politics ought to be seen as contrary to the Christian tradition. And that’s the case even if many Christians over the course of history have acted otherwise.

via A kinder mix of religion and politics during Holy Week – The Washington Post.

Now liberals keep bashing conservative Christians for their relatively recent interest in politics.  They don’t say much, though, about the overtly political agendas of the liberal churches.  I grew up in one of them and attended their conferences.  It has been said (by sociologist Peter Berger) that the best way to understand what the American left is up to is to attend meetings of the National Council of Churches. That agenda, by the way, is utterly utopian.

So I can appreciate what Dionne says, especially if he is willing to apply it to his own side.  (Liberal Catholics, by the way, are just as politically focused with a leftwing ideology as the Protestants in the National Council of Churches, if not more so, what with the revolutionary ideology of liberation theology.)

At the same time, all of this talk about “social justice” strikes me as rank hypocrisy as long as it excludes the justice due to babies being killed in their mother’s wombs.  In fact, I would argue that much of the “Christian right” is animated primarily by horror at legalized abortion.  And that if the issue of abortion were taken off the table–either by Democrats tolerating pro-lifers or Republicans embracing pro-choicers–the Christian right would diffuse its presence politically, though they won’t go away as long as this grotesque social evil continues.

“God hidden in the death of Christ”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (who has announced that he is stepping down) has some perceptive comments about Luther, the Reformation, and the Theology of the Cross:

“The Reformation put a question of the utmost gravity to all Christians, a question about the continuity and dependability of human response to God. It affirmed that the Church was capable of error; that no amount of scholastic tidiness could guarantee fidelity to God; that there was in the Church no secure locus of unquestionable authority. It pointed eloquently to human brokenness, the failure of reason and order. But it did so only to claim triumphantly that the Church’s security lay in this very failure, in the insecurity and un-rootedness which drove it always back to its spring in the Word made broken flesh. Against the self-sufficiency of Christendom is set – rightly and decisively – the cross. To Christians looking for a sign, an assurance, it offered only the ‘sign of the Son of Man’, God hidden in the death of Christ… Luther is a reminder to Catholic and Protestant alike that the strength of Christianity is its refusal to turn away from the central and unpalatable facts of human self-destructiveness; that it is there, in the bitterest places of alienation, that the depth and scope of Christ’s victory can be tasted, and the secret joy which transforms all experience from within can come to birth, the hidden but all-pervading liberation.” (p. 160-61)

via Rowan Williams on Martin Luther and the Cross-Shattered Church | Mockingbird.

The quotation is from his book Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to St. John of the Cross.

An ancient teenager and her Cross

Archaeologists have discovered the grave of a 16-year-old girl dating from just 50 years or so after the first Christian missionaries came to “Angle-land.”  She was wearing a magnificent golden and bejeweled cross.  From Medievalists.net:

One of the earliest Anglo-Saxon Christian burial sites in Britain has been discovered in a village outside Cambridge. The grave of a teenage girl from the mid 7th century AD has an extraordinary combination of two extremely rare finds: a ‘bed burial’ and an early Christian artefact in the form of a stunning gold and garnet cross.

The girl, aged around 16, was buried on an ornamental bed – a very limited Anglo-Saxon practice of the mid to later 7th century – with a pectoral Christian cross on her chest, that had probably been sewn onto her clothing. Fashioned from gold and intricately set with cut garnets, only the fifth of its kind ever to be found, the artefact dates this grave to the very early years of the English Church, probably between 650 and 680 AD.

In 597 AD, the pope dispatched St Augustine to England on a mission to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxon kings; a process that was not completed for many decades. Using the latest scientific techniques to analyse this exceptional find could result in a greater understanding of this pivotal period in British history, and the spread of Christianity in eastern England in the Anglo-Saxon period.

Was this teenage girl an early Christian convert, a standard-bearer for the new God? “Christian conversion began at the top and percolated down,” says Dr Sam Lucy, a specialist in Anglo-Saxon burial from Newnham College, University of Cambridge.

“To be buried in this elaborate way with such a valuable artefact tells us that this girl was undoubtedly high status, probably nobility or even royalty. This cross is the kind of material culture that was in circulation at the highest level of society. The best known example of the pectoral cross was that found in the coffin of St Cuthbert now in Durham Cathedral.”

“That this is a bed burial is remarkable in itself – the fifteenth ever uncovered in the UK, and only the fourth in the last twenty years – add to that a beautifully made Christian cross and you have a truly astonishing discovery,” says Alison Dickens, who led the excavation for the University’s Archaeological Unit.

via Archaeologists discover 7th-century Anglo-Saxon teenager with golden cross.

HT:  James Kushiner

The next step in open communion

In an effort to be even more inclusive than they already are, a diocese in the Episcopal Church has dropped baptism as a requirement for someone to receive Holy Communion.  The measure will go before the entire church body this summer.  From a conservative Anglican site:

The latest proposed element to chip away at core Anglican beliefs is the Diocese of East Oregon’s desire to offer Holy Communion to anyone who approaches the altar rail with their hands upraised. Baptism would not be a prerequisite. The Diocese of East Oregon has made it a matter of Communion without Baptism. . . .

Since the earliest of times, it has been the understanding, tradition and practice of the entire Christian Church to see Baptism as the first sacrament to be celebrated in the life of a new Christian. Baptism, therefore, is the foundation upon which the other sacraments and rites, including Holy Communion, are based.

The Episcopal Church already has a generous policy of Open Communion. Any baptized Christian in good standing in their own denomination is welcome to receive Communion at an Episcopal Church. However, there are limitations to that Open Communion rule as outlined in the Disciplinary Rubrics of the Book of Communion Prayer.

Those rubrics include denying Communion to anyone known to live a notoriously evil life, to those who have wronged their neighbors and are a scandal to the congregation, or to those who exhibit hatred and unforgiveness towards another. The priest is solemnly admonished to speak to these persons privately and then report why Communion is being withheld to the bishop within two weeks.

Retired Eau Claire Bishop William Wantland further explained, “although TEC has, by practice, adopted an “open Communion” stance, the Church officially adopted rules that admit to Communion only those who (1) are baptized and admitted to Communion in their own Church, (2) prepared by self examination and are in love and charity toward others, (3) understand the Eucharist to be a reflection of the Heavenly Banquet to come, (4) recognize the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and (5) reception of Communion must not violate the teaching of their own Church.” Not all Christian churches have an Open Communion practice. Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, some Baptists, the Amish, a variety of Lutherans comprised of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, as well as other conservative churches reject this broadminded approach to unrestricted reception at the Lord’s Table. Although, it is noted, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is in intercommunion (concordat) with The Episcopal Church.

Now the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon is bent on turning long standing theologically sound liturgical practice on its ear. On March 10, reportedly meeting online, Eastern Oregon’s Diocesan Council and Standing Committee took the bold step of re-doing two basic Anglican Sacraments – Baptism and Holy Communion — by ratifying a new resolution.

The Diocese of Eastern Oregon’s ratified Open Table Resolution reads: “Be in resolved, the House of _______ concurring, that The Episcopal Church ratify the rubrics and practice of The Book of Common Prayer to invite all, regardless of age, denomination or baptism to the altar for Holy Communion.” The Resolution also calls for the total deletion of TEC’s Canon I.17.7 which succinctly states: “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church,” as a minimum eligibility requirement for Communion. The Resolution also calls for “Canon 1.17.8 be renumbered Canon 1.17.7″ following the deletion of the currently numbered canon.

Eastern Oregon’s resolution is slated to be presented this summer at General Convention 2012 as Resolution C040. The newly filed Resolution is slotted for the legislative committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music after which it is kicked over to the House of Bishops for its initial action. . . .

The Diocese of Eastern Oregon’s explanation for its desire to see a change in the minimum requirements for receiving Holy Communion are that The Episcopal Church has continued to move forward as a more inclusive, open and welcoming religious body and should not to be encumbered by restrictive canons in its drive to be radically hospitable, boldly ecumenical, unconditionally companionate.

“In recent decades the Episcopal Church, with prayerful consideration and deliberation, has consistently moved to being a more inclusive, open and welcoming member of Christ’s Body. Such grace is riveted on the teachings and actions of Jesus and the compassionate embrace he had for all…no matter their creed or race,” the explanation states. “We believe it essential our Liturgy reflect the unconditional hospitality our Lord employed for his mission.”

Those of you who believe in open communion, would you go this far?  Should non-Christians be given the Sacrament?  I know of a group of Episcopalians who took to the streets, giving communion to passersby on the sidewalk.  Thus they considered that they were taking Jesus and the gospel out into the world to those who needed Him.  Is that a good evangelism activity?

The thing is, Episcopalians tend to have a relatively “high” view of baptism and Holy Communion, so this shift is notable.  How about those of you who think baptism and the Lord’s supper don’t really do anything?  You think the sacraments are only symbolic, but you must think they are symbolic of something that gives them meaning.  Would you go as far as these liberal Episcopalians?

I know how we confessional Lutherans react to this sort of thing and I don’t want to necessarily stir up a big argument on this day commemorating our Lord’s institution of this on-going feast, in which (we believe) He gives us His body and blood in a tangible and personal way in the church for the remission of our sins.  Our churches get routinely bashed, including on this blog, for only  communing members and those with whom we are in theological agreement.  I’m curious about those who criticize this practice.  Are there any limits you would place on how open you are willing to be?  And if there are some basic requirements you would insist on, what’s so wrong with requiring complete agreement as confessional Lutherans do?

 

He made Himself nothing

What a sermon we had on Palm Sunday to introduce Holy Week!  Pastor Douthwaite preached on Philippians 2:5-8:  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

He made Himself nothing.

The word used there is the word ekenosen, which means He emptied Himself. Some Bibles translate it that way, and so its important to know what that means, and what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that the Son of God left His godness behind in heaven when He became a man. It doesn’t mean He left His power and glory in heaven when He became a man. It doesn’t mean that when He was arrested and manhandled by the Roman soldiers, when He stood before Pilate, and when He hung on the cross, He was helpless and couldn’t do anything about it. He could have. Easily. The same Son of God who healed folks of every disease and sickness, who knew the thoughts and hearts of men, who could command all creation by His Word, whose glory shone in His transfiguration, and who had power over death – that is the Jesus of the Passion. The Son of God who willingly didn’t use all that power when it came time to save Himself. He made Himself nothing.

Yet perhaps we could go even farther than that, if that’s possible – He made Himself less than nothing. Taking upon Himself the sin of the world, He was the greatest sinner ever. Whoever you usually think has that title, the most evilest person you can think of, you’re wrong – it’s Jesus. He is the worst idolater, the worst unbeliever, the worst hater, the worst scoundrel, the worst murderer, the worst adulterer, the worst thief, the worst liar, the worst cheat, the worst everything . . . because He’s got all your sins and all my sins and all the sin of all the people out there, on Him.

Unfair? No. He took them. He wanted them. So that they would be on Him and not on you. So that they would be held against Him and not against you. So that He would be forsaken for them and die for them and not you.

He made Himself nothing.

The king becomes a servant. God becomes man. The One subject to none makes Himself subject to all. The author of life dies. The glory of God is hung on a cross.

Why? For you.

That’s what this day, and all this week, is all about. With all that you hear today, all that you hear this week, the thought to put in your mind is this: He did all this for me. For me. Not just for the world. For me. He made Himself nothing, to make you something. To make you a child of God. And that was worth it. For the Father, that was worth sending His Son. For Jesus, that was worth all the pain and agony and death. You were worth it. You may not be anything in anybody’s eyes; maybe not even in your own eyes. But you are in God’s eyes.

Maybe you think you’re nothing and that’s why you spend so much time trying to make yourself something. But there is simply nothing greater you can do or make yourself than what Jesus has made you: a child of God. That gives you more value than anything else in this world. And God has done that. He said it to you when you were baptized: You are now My beloved Son.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Palmarum/Passion Sunday Sermon.


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