WWROD? Another stab at defining the word ‘evangelical’

Long ago, I asked the Rev. Billy Graham a question that I really thought he, of all people, would be able to answer.

The question: What does the word “evangelical” mean?

As I have reported several times, the world’s most famous evangelist tossed the question right back at me:

“Actually, that’s a question I’d like to ask somebody, too,” he said, during a 1987 interview in his mountainside home office in Montreat, N.C. This oft-abused term has “become blurred. … You go all the way from the extreme fundamentalists to the extreme liberals and, somewhere in between, there are the evangelicals.”

Wait a minute, I said. If Billy Graham doesn’t know what “evangelical” means, then who does? Graham agreed that this is a problem for journalists and historians. One man’s “evangelical” is another’s “fundamentalist.”

So, a few months ago, I asked the Rev. Rick Warren — one of today’s most high-profile evangelicals — the same question. And his response?

“I know what the word ‘evangelical’ is supposed to mean,” said Warren, 58, leader of the 20,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., with its many branch congregations and ministries. “I mean, I know what the word ‘evangelical’ used to mean.”

The problem, he said, is that many Americans no longer link “evangelical” with a set of traditional doctrines, such as evangelistic efforts to reach the lost, the defense of biblical authority, projects to help the needy and the conviction that salvation is found through faith in Jesus Christ, alone.

Somewhere during the George W. Bush years the word “evangelical” — a term used in church history — got “co-opted into being a political term,” said Warren. …

(Cue: audible sigh)

Needless to say, this is an issue that has been discussed many times here at GetReligion, where we continue to argue that — damn the postmodernism, full speed ahead — journalists should attempt to use words precisely. On the religion beat, words with links to history and doctrine really matter. Words have meanings.

So, how are journalists supposed to know what “evangelical” means, since it is almost impossible to avoid using it these days?

This is a battle and, lucky for us, the other day someone asked this question to Godbeat patriarch Richard Ostling, over at his weblog, Religion Q&A: The Ridgewood Religion Guy Answers your Questions.”

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Steubenville: Ties between rape and ‘fundamentalist’ teens?

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Your GetReligionistas don’t spend much time digging around in the growing world of first-person, advocacy journalism. We realize that opinion is cheap and reporting new information is expensive and that managers of many websites are going to do what they are going to do, which is print more and more opinion pieces about big news events. This is the new reality, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

However, Salon.com recently ran a first-person essay about that sensational rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, that really deserved the negative attention given it by LifeWay Research pollster and evangelical social-media maven Ed Stetzer (click here for his post). More on that Salon.com train wreck in a moment.

I’ve been reading, with horror of course, much of the coverage of this trial — waiting for some kind of religion-news shoe to drop. When reporters described the sharp divisions present in Steubenville, and the bitter public debates about the case, I kept waiting for someone to contrast the local sex-and-booze football party culture with the city’s other famous, and truly countercultural, institution. That would be Franciscan University of Steubenville, a thriving campus that is known as a center for conservative forms of Catholicism, including the Catholic charismatic movement.

Franciscan is very well known locally, nationally and internationally, in part because of the stunning number of young women and men there who choose to become nuns, sisters, brothers and priests. Readers interested in church-state issues may recall recent fights over whether the city could keep an image of the Franciscan cross in its official civic seal.

Anyway, the nation’s media have — for better or for worse — managed to cover the rape trial without pulling the views of the faith community into the picture. The key to this event, most seem to agree, is the power of social media in the lives of the young. Here’s the top of a powerful New York Times piece on the verdicts:

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio – Two high school football stars were found guilty on Sunday of raping a 16-year-old girl last summer in a case that drew national attention for the way social media spurred the initial prosecution and later helped galvanize national outrage.

Because the victim did not remember what had happened, scores of text messages and cellphone pictures provided much of the evidence. They were proof as well, some said, that Steubenville High School’s powerhouse football team held too much sway over other teenagers, who documented and traded pictures of the assault while doing little or nothing to protect the girl.

This nightmare may not be over, precisely because of the way the social-media threads spread out into the community. The judge warned that:

… (T)he case was a cautionary lesson in how teenagers conduct themselves when alcohol is present and in “how you record things on social media that are so prevalent today.” The trial also exposed the behavior of other teenagers, who wasted no time spreading photos and text messages with what many in the community felt was callousness or cruelty.

And that aspect of the case may not be complete. The Ohio attorney general, Mike DeWine, said after the verdict that he would convene a grand jury next month to finish the investigation. … The verdict came after four days of testimony that was notable for how Ohio investigators analyzed hundreds of text messages from more than a dozen cellphones and created something like a real-time accounting of the assault.

Like I said, this is horrible stuff.

So what does this have to do with religion? That’s where a Salon.com piece by freelance writer Molly McCluskey comes into the picture. The headline?

My Steubenville

It was a base for the teen evangelical movement, where I saw fundamentalist Christianity’s power, and its danger

Wait a minute.

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Covering opposition to syncretism in a syncretized world

There is nothing more fun about being a confessional Lutheran than explaining our position on syncretistic worship to those who aren’t.

I kid, it’s not fun at all. See, the world embraces syncretism. The general idea is, it goes without saying, that all religions are good and valid and different paths to understanding the same truth. If you don’t ascribe to that notion, you are probably a bad guy.

Civil religion has many components but one aspect is that it rather tries to transcend all religions while including them. All religions and all gods are to be equally tolerated, honored and respected everywhere. One of the most important aspects of American civil religion is participation in interfaith — or syncretistic — worship services. These worship services used to be more about “unionism” — the blending of Christian worship — whereas now they explicitly blend in groups that reject Christianity. It turns out that confessional Lutherans not only don’t support unionism and syncretism but it’s a big part of our story about how we came to America. The head of Germany was forcing joint worship (with the Reformed Christians) on confessional Lutherans and we took our doctrinal beliefs so seriously that we were forced to flee.

It’s a very serious issue for us. And one that most of our fellow Americans don’t understand (though they’ve graciously allowed us in and allowed us to practice our doctrinal beliefs).

We don’t do interfaith worship because of our understanding of the First Commandment, which is a demand for, as one of our scholars puts it, “a radical and absolute exclusivity in our relationship with the realm of divine beings.” And since the first duty of the believer is to worship, this is most clearly expressed in how we worship.

If you are a journalist who is genuinely interested in this topic and why we believe what we do, I’d encourage the book “The Anonymous God: The Church Confronts Civil Religion and American Society.” It’s a highly readable, succinct explanation of our doctrines and how American culture is hostile to our views. If you’re going for the quick and dirty version, I’d recommend (sorry …) my own Wall Street Journal piece on the matter the last time this became a big issue in the media, after a clergy member was suspended for his participation in interfaith worship:

In late June, the church suspended the Rev. David Benke, the president of its Atlantic District and the pastor of a Brooklyn church, for praying with clerics who don’t share the Christian faith.

Naturally, the suspension caused all hell to break loose. From the New York Times’ editors to FoxNews’ Bill O’Reilly, pundits and commentators chided the Lutherans for their intolerance. Mr. O’Reilly, not otherwise known for theological expertise, even accused the church of “not following Jesus.” A column in Newsday said Mr. Benke’s accusers were “advocating religious isolationism.” …

To participate in an interfaith service is, as the synod announced upon suspending Mr. Benke, “a serious offense” strictly forbidden by tradition and church law. But the source of the prohibition is Christ’s own words. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). As the Rev. Charles Henrickson, a Lutheran minister in St. Louis, explains: “The gospel is not served, it is not confessed — indeed, the gospel is eviscerated — when Jesus Christ is presented as one of many options from which to choose on a smorgasbord of spirituality.”

Basically we think it’s fine to set aside differences to work together in many things unless the thing we’re supposed to agree to disagree on is Jesus and the context is worship.

Another issue arose when a Lutheran pastor who everyone agrees is doing a great job ministering to his congregation in Newtown in all sorts of ways took part in a syncretistic worship service. He explained why he thought it was ok, but many Lutherans thought it not, it was becoming a bit of a “scandal” (in the church sense of the term), and his supervisors asked him to speak a word of apology. He did. The President basically told both the people who thought his apology didn’t go far enough and those who want to change church teaching on syncretism that they should work together in love and compassion. While it’s not a huge issue within the church body, some folks have been pushing for secular media coverage of same since that’s a much more favorable climate for changing church teaching on this matter.

So if you thought it was less than enjoyable to have your patriotism questioned after 9/11, you can imagine how easy it is to explain your church doctrine on the First and Second Commandments in the subtle and unpolarized aftermath of the Newtown massacre. The headlines and stories have been full of outrage. Some of that is to be expected for anything as countercultural as our doctrine on this matter. Some of it is just not the best work.

Or as Vanity Fair‘s Kurt Eichenwald put it:

Truth: Lutherans angry at minister 4 praying w/ a Rabbi 4 a dead Jewish boy wouldve been angry 4 prayers at the Crucifiction of Jesus, a Jew

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News flash! Pastors preach different sermons on sex!

The Associated Press carried a story the other day that made a very interesting — and newsworthy — claim about the ever-controversial Rev. Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.

Pay close attention to the top few paragraphs on this one:

The Rev. Robert Jeffress has changed the way he talks about homosexuality from the pulpit.

The pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Dallas hasn’t stopped preaching that homosexual sex is sinful, but he no longer singles it out for special condemnation. Now, Jeffress says he usually talks about homosexuality within “a bigger context of God’s plan for sex between one man and one woman in a lifetime relationship called marriage.”

“It would be the height of hypocrisy to condemn homosexuality and not adultery or unbiblical divorce,” he said, explaining that the Bible allows divorce only in cases of adultery or desertion. He also includes premarital sex on that list.

Now, the crucial thing the story never documents is precisely what is meant by that claim that Jeffress used to single out homosexual behavior for “special condemnation” in comparison with other forms of sexual activity outside of traditional marriage.

Does this mean that, for example, Jeffress used to preach MORE OFTEN about gay issues than straight issues? Does this mean that he actually said that he taught that acts of gay sex are, in the eyes of centuries of Christian doctrine, somehow more sinful than, let’s say, sexual intercourse before marriage? Sure Jeffress did not make that claim (hello Westboro Baptist Church) that homosexual sins are not only worse than others, but that they cannot be forgiven, even after repentance.

It would have been good to have asked Jeffress what he actually taught, in the past, or even quoted an example or two from taped sermons available to the public.

Whatever. The goal of the story is to spotlight that fact that many younger evangelicals are changing how they view “gay and lesbian issues.” I have no doubt whatsoever that this trend in polls is real and that it is important. However, I also see very little evidence that these polls are consistent in their wordings, when it comes to asking young evangelicals what they believe and, more importantly, what specific Christian teachings they now reject.

I know many young evangelicals who back same-sex marriage to the same degree that they support abortion. In other words, they want the legal option to exist for society, but, in terms of theology, they have not personally rejected centuries of church teachings on the subject.

This AP report sets out to offer a highly nuanced take on these issues, since the goal is to show that people are being more nuanced. But the wordings used in the story? They are all over the place.

The story also accepts, as pure fact, claims by progressive Christian leaders that doctrinally progressive churches are thriving and gaining new members, while conservative churches are losing members in waves. The evidence? The voices of researchers on the other side? Silence. Zero. Zip. Nada.

What emerges is evidence that some popular church leaders are changing how they PRESENT sexual issues in public. Also, some preachers are falling silent.

… Jeffress said he was concerned that some other evangelical pastors were shirking this responsibility.

“My sense is that people are just avoiding the subject, by and large,” he said. “They are so bent on trying to add to the numbers of their churches that they don’t want to disenfranchise new members or be characterized as unfriendly.”

Atlanta pastor the Rev. Louie Giglio seems to have taken that approach. After withdrawing from giving the benediction at president Obama’s inauguration ceremony because of controversy over a past sermon in which he said same-sex relationships were sinful, Giglio downplayed the significance of the remarks.

In his withdrawal letter, Giglio did not say he had changed his views on homosexuality, but instead noted how old the sermon was and stated, “Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past 15 years.”

The key, for reporters, is to realize that there are stark differences between many of the leaders on the right, as well as differences between those on the left. What to do?

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More about Ray Lewis and his Psalms 91 t-shirt

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So, GetReligion readers, I am happy to report that the Baltimore Sun team noticed the scripture reference at the heart of one of the biggest moments in the recent history of sports here in Charm City. I am referring to the fact — click here for the previous GetReligion post — that when, after Ravens personnel had ripped the jersey off his back, superstar linebacker Ray Lewis faced national television cameras and ran a victory lap of the stadium while wearing a t-shirt that proclaimed “Psalms 91.”

The Bible reference was featured at the end of prominent story about Lewis’ volunteer work, often faith-based, in the community. More on that in a minute.

The t-shirt drew its own short Sun online story which I didn’t see in the dead-tree-pulp newspaper, unless it merely missed the edition delivered at my house near the Baltimore Beltway.

The key question, of course, was this: Why this particular Psalm?

That raises, for me, an interesting journalistic question. How, precisely, are journalists supposed to know which part of this famous and complex passage of scripture inspired Lewis’ symbolic act if they didn’t dare to ask him that question?

Well — DUH! — you choose the most controversial motive, in this case noting that parts of Psalm 91 fit into the whole image of Lewis living as an angry warrior still haunted by the enemies who doubt his words and acts of repentance for his serious, serious errors in the past.

Thus, Sun online readers read:

… Curious minds wanted to understand what point Lewis was trying to make as he took a victory lap around the stadium wearing this particular shirt.

The psalm is known as the “psalm of protection.” It has a lot to do with vanquishing various enemies with faith and treading upon beasts under one’s feet. Here’s a key passage:

Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge;

his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.

A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.

Of course, the biblical reference to treading on lions and serpents led the Sun team to the obvious National Football League connection — the need to tread on Colts, Bengals, Lions, Eagles, etc. It’s the playoffs, you know.

The actual news report — “Fans praise Lewis’ efforts on and off the field” — touched on a number of different projects that have drawn support from Lewis, especially a project to fight the spread of AIDS among African-Americans.

The faith themes in the piece came together at the end, including a quote from the Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, who is known for his work in tough, impoverished streets. At one point, he noted that the fact Lewis has spent a few days in jail does not offend many people on that side of the city.

Some observers find his speeches about redemption cloying and his over-heated rhetoric about leadership silly. Ravens fans eagerly awaited his dance before each home game; others mocked it. …

As Lewis left the field for the last time, he wore a shirt that read simply “Psalms 91.” Like other Bible passages Lewis has referenced, it is a vivid telling of triumph through difficult times. “You will trample the great lion and the serpent,” it reads.

“Ray’s story is ancient, and it is beautiful,” Witherspoon said. “It speaks to Baltimore.”

The reference to “triumph through difficult times” is solid, but, of course, frames Psalm 91 in sports-friendly terms. “Triumph” sounds better in the newspaper, perhaps, than more doctrinal words such as “repentance” and “salvation.”

But let me ask my main question again: How do journalists know what the Psalms 91 t-shirt was saying, for Lewis himself, without asking him?

Does this matter? Well, is he an angry, paranoid warrior or a thankful, repentant believer?

With that in mind, please read past the jump and note the full Psalm 91 text. If in the journalistic driver’s seat, which section of the psalm — speaking to journalists — would you have argued was most relevant as Lewis ran his farewell lap on Sunday?

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Going off-script: Angus Jones zaps ‘Two and a Half Men’

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First things first. I sincerely hope that you’ve never had the displeasure of watching the abominable show “Two and a Half Men.”

If I were to draft a list of the top 10 things that make me feel alienated from my fellow citizens, the fact that this was for many years the most watched show in America would be right up there at the top of the list. It’s so vile and unfunny. And I’ve never even come close to seeing an actual episode — just a few snippets here and there.

However, as millions and millions of Americans know, the “half” in the title refers to the kid on the sitcom and he went full Charlie Sheen recently and ripped on the show.

This not being standard operating procedure in Hollywood, his rant made headlines. What makes it interesting for our purposes is that the comments against the show were nothing but religious and were made in the context of a recorded testimony of his Christian faith. So my fave story has to be the one that focuses not on the content of the comments but, rather, the business side of things. Entertainment Weekly has a piece headlined “Angus T. Jones outburst: Has he breached his ‘Two and a Half Men’ contract?” The end of that piece says, by the way:

Jones gave his testimony to religious conspiracy theorist Chris “The Forerunner” Hudson, who no doubt hoped his surprising interview with the star would shine a larger spotlight on his end-of-days beliefs.

So I know nothing about Chris Hudson. I’m sorry, I know nothing about this whole “The Forerunner” thing. However, I prefer my journalists to show me how a person is a religious conspiracy theorist rather than merely to assert that he is. As it’s written, the reporter makes it seem like belief in “end-of-days” is the substantiation for the charge, which I assume was unintended. I tried to dig around for some more info and it looks like Hudson is involved with theories about The Illuminati.

I rather liked how the Los Angeles Times handled it:

Angus T. Jones doesn’t much like “Two and a Half Men,” and he wishes viewers wouldn’t watch the show.

So said the 19-year-old TV star in Christian testimony shot principally in his production trailer and posted Monday by the Forerunner Christian Church on YouTube.

“Jake from ‘Two and a Half Men’ means nothing. He is a nonexistent character … ,” Jones said, starting about halfway through the video above. “If you watch ‘Two and a Half Men,’ please stop watching ‘Two and a Half Men.’ I’m on ‘Two and a Half Men,’ and I don’t want to be on it.

“Please stop watching it; stop filling your head with filth. Please. People say it’s just entertainment. … Do some research on the effects of television and your brain, and I promise you you’ll have a decision to make when it comes to television, and especially with what you watch.” …

“A lot of people don’t like to think about how deceptive the enemy is. He’s been doing this for a lot longer than any of us have been around … ,” Jones said, presumably referring to Satan. “There’s no playing around when it comes to eternity.”

Just a simple set-up, a helpful amount of interpretation, and lots of quotes. The USA Today story on the matter was interesting because it never mentioned which religion influenced Jones. The most it ever says is here:

Two and a Half Men has a new critic — and he’s on the inside.

In a YouTube video, Angus T. Jones, who plays the teen Jake Harper on the CBS sitcom, tells viewers not to watch the series because it contains “filth.” His comments are part of a religious testimony given to The Forerunner Chronicles.

Particularly considering the obliqueness of the name of the outfit to which he gave his testimony, a bit more information sure would have been helpful. You think?

In other journalism news, The Hollywood Reporter handled this problem with a much more detailed report. The Associated Press and Variety each had short reports, too.

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Times team laughs at all those bitter Texans

Since I grew up in a solidly Baylor family, I have always understood why the university’s seal contains the following crucial words in Latin: Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana.

That is, of course, for the church, for Texas.

A church historian friend of mine once laughed out loud when he saw those words on the front of an old Baylor sweatshirt that was wearing. He thought, of course, that this referred to some kind of over-the-top Baylor pride in the state of Texas.

Nope, the seal simply states the fact that Baylor was chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas.

The university’s web site explains both parts of that equation, but the key part is the text that tries to describe the higher loyalty involved in that slogan:

Pro Ecclesia. Baylor is founded on the belief that God’s nature is made known through both revealed and discovered truth. Thus, the University derives its understanding of God, humanity and nature from many sources: the person and work of Jesus Christ, the biblical record, and Christian history and tradition, as well as scholarly and artistic endeavors. In its service to the Church, Baylor’s pursuit of knowledge is strengthened by the conviction that truth has its ultimate source in God and by a Baptist heritage that champions religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

I bring this up for a simple reason: I imagine that if a Baylor grad walked into the newsroom of The New York Times these days, that whole “For the Church, For Texas” thing would also be pretty funny. I say that after reading the laugh-to-keep-from-crying piece that the Gray Lady ran the other day under the headline, “With Stickers, a Petition and Even a Middle Name, Secession Fever Hits Texas.”

It must be very hard for people outside of Texas to understand that there is more to that whole TexasSecede.com thing than the reelection of President Barack Obama.

Now, I realize that it’s hard to know just how seriously to take this story.

Nevertheless, it’s crucial for the Times team to realize that there is more to that growing sense of red-zip code rebellion than, well, a bizarre sense of Texas nationalism, gun fever and a few other issues that are punch-lines in the elite blue cities (including, yes, in Austin). Here is the key passage, the kind of token summary of the facts in the middle of all the strangeness:

A petition calling for secession that was filed by a Texas man on a White House Web site has received tens of thousands of signatures, and the Obama administration must now issue a response. And Larry Scott Kilgore, a perennial Republican candidate from Arlington, a Dallas suburb, announced that he was running for governor in 2014 and would legally change his name to Larry Secede Kilgore, with Secede in capital letters. As his Web page, secedekilgore.com, puts it: “Secession! All other issues can be dealt with later.”

In Texas, talk of secession in recent years has steadily shifted to the center from the fringe right. It has emerged as an echo of the state Republican leadership’s anti-Washington, pro-Texas-sovereignty mantra on a variety of issues, including health care and environmental regulations. For some Texans, the renewed interest in the subject serves simply as comic relief after a crushing election defeat. …

The official in East Texas, Peter Morrison, the treasurer of the Hardin County Republican Party, said in a statement that he had received overwhelming support from conservative Texans and overwhelming opposition from liberals outside the state in response to his comments in his newsletter. He said that it may take time for “people to appreciate that the fundamental cultural differences between Texas and other parts of the United States may be best addressed by an amicable divorce, a peaceful separation.”

So, if this issue is slowly creeping from the right fringe — the edge that is the primary focus of this blue-ink report — toward the middle, what are the issues that are driving that movement? What, in other words, are the primary “cultural differences” that many — not all, but many — die-hard Texans are convinced separate their state from some other parts of the United States?

The story cites “health care” as one of those issues. Did anyone one linked with the Times follow up on that?

Let me stress, once again, that I am very much a prodigal Texan who has chosen to spend most of his life in blue zip codes (think Maryland, Charlotte, Baltimore, West Palm Beach). However, I have a hunch that this whole angry Texas thing has just as much to do with issues of religion as it has to do with “environmental regulations.” Did anyone ask any questions about, oh, religious liberty and free speech issues?

A totally secular story on this issue strikes me as most strange. Bizarre, even. Might some of these bitter Texans even be mad enough to, what was that Obama phrase, try to cling to their old-fashioned beliefs about God and guns?

Here’s hoping that the Times team elects to talk to some folks closer to the middle next time.

IMAGE: Early flag of the Republic of Texas.

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Got news? Obama as Antichrist prequel draws silence

Man oh man do I feel conflicted writing this post.

Let me state, right up front, that I would be the first news-media critic to argue that mainstream press folks are too quick to take a single statement by a single, often obscure, conservative preacher and then turn it into a national story about how all Fundamentalist or even evangelical Christians think about a given topic. In fact, I once went so far as to argue, at Poynter.org, that it was time for journalists to pay less attention to the Rev. Pat Robertson for precisely this reason.

Still, I am very surprised that the following story received a little bit of ink in conservative Christian media The Christian Post, to be precise – and then never broke out into the mainstream. While I fear what would have happened, in terms of warped coverage, when the story went viral, I still think that it was a significant story.

For starters, I am amazed that the story received no coverage, that I can find in this pay-wall age, at The Dallas Morning News. It is getting harder and harder to remember the days when that newspaper was a trailblazer in some forms of religion-news coverage.

So what’s up?

Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, made remarks on Sunday before the election that should Obama win, his victory would lead to the reign of the Antichrist.

“I want you to hear me tonight, I am not saying that President Obama is the Antichrist, I am not saying that at all. One reason I know he’s
not the Antichrist is the Antichrist is going to have much higher poll numbers when he comes,” said Jeffress. “President Obama is not the Antichrist. But what I am saying is this: the course he is choosing to lead our nation is paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist.”

To some degree, this is simply a variation on the whole idea — which national polls do support in many ways — that America is slowly evolving into Europe. Then again, this is the United States, an intensely religion-haunted land in which many atheists continue to tell pollsters that they continue to pray, to Something or Somebody or perhaps Themselves.

I would have been interested to have known WHY Jeffress made this statement, doctrinally, other than the usual serious social issues linked to the sanctity of human life and the decline of marriage in our culture. When people make this kind of statement, it helps to carefully quote them on some of the specifics, to provide context (or perhaps further outrage).

The other point that needs to be made — saith Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher — is that the First Baptist Church of Dallas is not an obscure, out of the way pulpit. This is a once dominant, and still important, pulpit in one of America’s two or three most important cities, in the world of conservative Christianity.

And, yes, we are talking about THAT preacher, the same Robert Jeffress who received so much attention when he worried out loud about Mitt Romney, as a Mormon, being the GOP nominee. Jeffress called Mormonism a “theological cult,” which many reporters then shortened to “cult” — period — and all heckfire broke forth in the headline. Click here for a previous GetReligion post on the term that he used and the blunter term that reporters jumped on.

In the midst of all of that, Jeffress noted that he intended — eventually — to support Romney and to vote for him. This came to pass. Thus, The Christian Post quoted him as saying:

“I haven’t changed my tune … In fact, I never said Christians should not vote for Mitt Romney. When I talked about his theology,” said Jeffress in an interview with Fox News.

“I still maintain there are vast differences in theology between Mormons and Christians, but we do share many of the same values, like the sanctity of life and religious freedom.”

So, in context, what was it that Jeffress said about Obama — who is a liberal mainline Protestant — and the future of our land? Even as I cringe, I must confess that I am surprised that reporters didn’t find that a compelling question.

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