• Betty Cracker updates us on the latest from professional Bearer of False Witness James O’Keefe, whose shtick involves filming himself breaking the law in the hopes of editing the video later to expose others. Or something.
Anyway, O’Keefe’s latest involves him gasping in indignation over a super-secret “leaked” audio tape of a journalist saying in private … exactly the sort of thing any good journalist says in public. The subject of this “sting” is Richard Griffiths, a CNN executive, who was CAUGHT ON TAPE saying that journalists have an obligation to “tell what’s going on.” Horrors. But what O’Keefe prizes most here as a supposed SMOKING GUN!1!! is Griffiths repeating a (slightly bungled) version of the old dictum: “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
This is a piece of advice — or a mission statement — that I’ve heard for years in both newsrooms and seminary classrooms. It’s something taught to every cub reporter and to every young preacher. So I’ve always wondered who had it first?
Betty notes that this quote is often attributed to H.L. Mencken. Wikipedia suggests it’s from Finley Peter Dunne’s “Mr. Dooley” character — but that’s in a bit where he needles newspapers for playing various ecclesiastical roles, so it’s possible he’s borrowing a line there from the preachers. If anybody can find an earlier version of this formula — besides the Beatitudes — let us know.
• Somehow, despite being a child of 1980s evangelicalism, I was heretofore unaware that Dolly Parton once covered Don Francisco’s greatest hit. Her 1988 album White Limozeen included a version of “He’s Alive,” which was even released as a single that briefly reached the Country charts. The official video for the song featured concert footage of Dolly singing it at the CMAs, but I recently stumbled across this strangely fascinating, unofficial video for it on YouTube:
That video manages to evoke all the awkward uncomfortableness of liturgical dance while simultaneously making it seem like the song isn’t so much about Jesus as about Half-Hanged Mary.
• Back when I worked at a bookstore, we got a cease-and-desist letter from Disney lawyers who had somehow gotten wind of our Cinderella Story Time children’s event. (This despite our Cinderella being 100-percent Rodgers & Hammerstein and not Disney.) So I can’t believe Disney’s legal department will overlook this copyright violation by the Catlettsburg, Kentucky, police department.
Yeah, that’s the Punisher logo on their police cruisers. Because nothing says respect for the law more than the logo of a cop-killing comic-book vigilante. I’m sure the good citizens of Catlettsburg find it reassuring that their police force is made up of a bunch of Frank Castle wanna-bes.
Oh, and the decal also says “Blue Lives Matter,” because that’s main job of police — serving and protecting themselves and declaring their own priority over the second-class civilians of the community.
• Warren Throckmorton takes a closer look at one of the diploma mills selling “doctorates” to prominent figures on the religious right. “We are able to assess the total amount of credit requirements through their lifelong learning experiences,” a spokesperson for something called the “Phoenix University of Theology” explains to him, proudly.
• Unemployment is, as John Paul II wrote, a “scourge” and “the opposite of a just and right situation.” I do not wish unemployment on anyone, and I feel terrible for the 3,000 people losing their jobs at 240 Family Christian Stores in what had been the world’s largest “Christian”-brand retail chain. This is awful, life-changing news for all of them and I sincerely hope that they’ll be able to recover and regain their economic footing as quickly as possible.
Christian-brand authors agent Steve Laube told Christianity Today* that the end of Family Christian Stores “will have a deleterious effect on many communities which have relied on their local store for their Christian products, whether it be a greeting card, book, or Bible.” But that’s exactly why — apart from the devastating blow to those 3,000 workers — the demise of Family Christian Stores is otherwise Good News for the church, for the kingdom, for the gospel, and for American Christianity in general.
The market-driven religion peddled in those stores ranged from (mostly) harmless pablum to utterly toxic blasphemy. This was where people intending to learn about Christianity were, instead, sold millions of copies of the Left Behind series, or This Present Darkness, or any of an endless stream of “inspirational” self-help titles preaching some form of prosperity gospel. The venomous garbage marketed and blessed as God-approved by these stores is what helped train white evangelicals to achieve that infamous 81 percent.
I hope those 3,000 employees are all able to quickly find better, more rewarding, less blasphemous work. But I’m not sorry to see these stores shuttered. Close ’em all and salt the earth.
* Christianity Today is a publication that believes gay and lesbian couples are “destructive to society.”