Southern Baptist Convention grapples with sexual abuse report

The Guardian 2/24/19

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), one of the largest Christian organizations in the world, is grappling with allegations that more than 250 of its leaders sexually abused more than 700 congregants over the last two decades.

A months-long investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News, published this month, asserted that dozens of churches within the SBC knowingly hired sex offenders, silenced victims, neglected to fire sexually abusive leaders and declined to report cases to secular authorities, or even document them within their own organization.

The SBC is the closest thing evangelicals have to a Vatican. That has lead to the two newspapers’ work being compared to the Boston Globe’s 2002 revelations about sexual abuse within the Catholic church, which were retold in the Oscar-winning film Spotlight.

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Flat Earthers keep the faith at Denver conference

The Guardian 11/18/18

“I thought the idea of a flat Earth was ridiculous,” said Robbie Davidson, a slim, hyper Canadian sporting a ginger goatee and loose fitting suit while sitting in the lobby of a Denver hotel.

But not any more. The hotel is hosting the second annual Flat Earth International Conference – an event that Davidson himself founded and organized.

“I’d first heard it in the Bible and thought ‘this can’t be true,’” he recalled, speaking with rapid excitement. “I mean, I believed everything else, that the Earth was created in six literal days, but what about all this other stuff [about a flat Earth]? To be consistent as a biblical literalist, I can’t pick and choose.”

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Growing Up Evangelical Ruined Sex for Me

VICE 10/8/18

In the 1990s, evangelical teen girls were given a very confusing message: If you’re a virgin when you get married, you will have a much better sex life. Female chastity had always been an oppressive trope of Christianity, but in late 20th century America, a cottage industry of books, conventions, “purity rings” and creepy father-daughter dances emerged, celebrating the virtues of female abstinence—and the danger of female sexuality.

Known today as “purity culture,” it was a meticulously designed system of rules and mind-games aimed at curbing adolescent Christian libidos. One of the most popular books of this phenomenon, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, has since been acknowledged by its author, Joshua Harris, as contributing to a great deal of psychological trauma in its generation of readers.

When Linda Kay Klein was a teenager growing up in the midwest in the mid 90s, she was completely saturated in purity culture, where the simplest thought, sensation, or G-rated touch with a boy was not only destructive to her self-worth, but a threat to his.

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In US evangelical capital, a new progressiveness and differing views on Israel

The Guardian 5/19/18

This week, the Trump administration completed its move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

At the opening ceremony, two of the American speakers were evangelical superstars: Pastor Robert Jeffress, the author of several doomsday books about Israel, and John Hagee, who interpreted recent lunar eclipses as evidence that the end times were nigh. The Fox News personality Jeanine Pirro, meanwhile, declared that Trump had “fulfilled biblical prophecy”.

The ceremony coincided with massive protests, in which 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces.

Thousands of miles away, in her home outside Colorado Springs, Kimberly Troup sat in a cluttered basement office. She is an evangelical Christian who takes to heart the Bible verse in which God speaks of the Jewish nation: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.”

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I Spent 24 Hours Watching Christian Infomercials

VICE 1/24/18

Disgraced televangelist, ex-con, and soup salesman Jim Bakker paints a bleak portrait for the near future: North Korea will release a series of electromagnetic pulse bombs above the earth’s atmosphere, completely disabling all US electronic technology. Counter-attacks will leave the planet in ruin. 95 percent of humanity will die in the first six months. “Woe to those who are pregnant or nursing babies in those days!” he says, quoting the Bible as he hosts The Jim Bakker Show.

But, thankfully, you are prepared. You have purchased your Tasty Pantry Deluxe Food Buckets, guaranteeing you over ten thousand servings of pizza, mac and cheese, and chocolate pudding while you wait out the apocalypse. You have purchased your solar generator with compatible microwave and electric blanket, “so you don’t freeze to death,” says Bakker. You have your collection of “end times” literature with titles like The Islamic Antichrist and The Trump Prophecies, which will guide you through the bloody tribulations to come.

I’ve only just begun my 24 hour binge of the newly revived Praise the Lord (PTL) network, Bakker’s apocalypse-themed Christian home shopping channel. As a child I marinated in doomsday prophecies like these, as my parents (and those of my poverty-stricken friends) gave ten percent of our yearly income to conmen like Bakker—about as much as I’ve spent on therapists attempting to treat the PTSD caused by spending 20 years waiting for the world to end.

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‘Love Is Love’: media firm uses LGBT language to send anti-gay message

The Guardian 1/23/18

The “Love Is Love” video begins with a teenage girl, Emily, telling the story of coming out to her parents. “Love is not necessarily between a man and a woman,” she recalls saying. Footage plays of two women, dancing and flirting. “If you’re truly a Christian, you’re on my side … because God is love.”

Between the title and the rainbow flag, you could easily mistake this for a pro-LGBT video from the It Gets Better or Truth Wins Out campaigns. But it’s actually from Anchored North, an evangelical media company that uses short-form videos to proselytize on behalf of Christianity via social media.

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‘Exvangelicals’: why more religious people are rejecting the evangelical label

The Guardian 11/3/17

Concerned about the rightwing stereotypes linked to the term, many say they no longer identify with it – especially after the 2016 election.

“I don’t identify myself with that term any more,” Boz Tchividjian said recently. He was talking about being “evangelical”, the movement his grandfather, the Rev Billy Graham, helped popularize in America. “Words matter,” Tchividjian said, “and ‘evangelical’ isn’t like Baptist or Episcopalian, which can be clearly defined. The minute you use that term to someone, “you’re defined by how they interpret it.”

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Evangelical Hell Houses Are Waking Nightmares

VICE 10/30/17

There were angry Trump supporters shouting to our left, and enraged Black Lives Matter protesters on our right. A snide demon slithered from one side to the other, proudly exclaiming, “Welcome to my world, where anyone different from you is a threat, where evil grows and hatred runs deep! It’s one of my oldest and most successful tactics!”

Smiling through ominous goth makeup, the demon whispered in the ears of each protester, planting racist slurs and stirring up divisions. The verbal combat was punctuated by the sound of an exploding handgun fired by a Trump supporter into the chest of a BLM activist, who collapsed to the ground, dead.

“You cannot escape my hate!” the demon roared. “Now get out!”

It was in the wake of the deafening gun blast at Trinity Church’s Hell House 27: No Escape in Dallas, Texas, that I remembered just how toxic an evangelical hell house could be. The overarching message of this—and the countless other hell houses happening this Halloween—is that every ailment plaguing society today (drug addiction, domestic abuse, sex trafficking, gun violence) is evidence that there are demons around us aiming to seduce us into sin, death, and eternal torment in hell.

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Donald Trump is no saint, but I know why evangelicals love him

The Guardian 9/5/17

As a recovering Christaholic, 12 years sober from God, I’ve been asked before to explain why evangelicals stick with Donald Trump. After all, his attempts at appearing Christian are hopelessly pretentious, he’s bragged about his sins, and has built a career on casinos and half-naked women.

The easy answer is: Evangelicals know he’s not a real Christian, but they’re pragmatic about overturning Roe v Wade, and generally agree with his economic plan of deregulation, lowering taxes, and keeping undocumented immigrants out.

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Billy Graham’s Grandson Says Protestants Abuse Kids Just Like Catholics

VICE 8/24/17

Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian walks a fine line. On one side, he’s the ultimate evangelical insider. His grandfather was the famed evangelical preacher Billy Graham, who exerted immense influence over American politics, culture, and theology. Tchividjian has followed in the family business, teaching law at Liberty University, the Christian college of famed Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell.

On the other side, he’s one of the most articulate critics of evangelical institutions, at times sounding like a new atheist prophet alongside Richard Dawkins or Bill Maher. He says that churches can be ideal environments for sexual predators who target children. And that traditions of shame, male power structures, and public relations myopia help keep abusers in positions of power and the abused silent.

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Cops Accuse Christian Commune of Abusing and Raping Children

VICE 7/23/17

On Sunday, police arrested current and former members of a Christian group in New Mexico for a litany of alleged crimes. According to a report on Monday by ABC affiliate KOAT-7 Action News, one member was charged with 100 counts of sexual penetration of a girl who was allegedly smuggled into this country from Uganda. The warrant used to make the arrest, which was viewed by VICE, further claims the group concealed the births of multiple children and the death of at least one boy, whose remains were buried on the group’s private property.

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The Return of Exorcisms as Healthcare

VICE 7/11/17

Throughout history and in faiths beyond just Christianity, demonic possession has been a common misdiagnosis for all kinds of ailments. In retrospect, it is often revealed that many of these people suffer from disorders like schizophrenia or epilepsy. Regardless of the true underlying medical issues, some religious figures perform exorcisms today like the one McClellan went through. While McClellan’s exorcism left her with lasting psychological damage that took years of therapy to overcome, exorcisms can be even more disastrous and potentially fatal. In recent years, stories of exorcisms involving people being beatenpoisonedstomped, and starved to death have made global headlines.

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Free Will is an Illusion, says Neurobiologist

VICE 5/24/17

There is no concept more American than “free will”—the idea that we’re all gifted (probably by God) with the power to choose a path of success or destruction and bear responsibility for the resulting consequences. It’s the whole reason we “punish” people for committing crimes. The idea is so ubiquitous that most people have never even pondered an alternative.

Neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky sees things differently. He’s opposed to the concept of “free will.” Instead, he believes that our behavior is made up of a complex and chaotic soup of so many factors that it’s downright silly to think there’s a singular, autonomous “you” calling the shots.

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 Needing Proof to Believe in Jesus Means You Have No Faith

VICE 4/15/17

If it could be proven that Jesus never rose from the dead after he was brutally crucified, would that be the end of Christianity? Journalist Lee Strobel seemed to think so in 1980 when he spent two years of his life attempting to debunk the resurrection myth in order to save his wife from her new-found Christianity. It’s a dramatic tale of theology and marriage that was chronicled in the bestselling book, The Case for Christ, and a newly released film from the evangelical production company, Pure Flix.

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The Contentious Relationship Between Evangelicals and Hollywood

VICE 5/19/17

Controversy surrounding The Shack represents the inevitable clash between America’s millions of evangelicals and Hollywood’s army of liberal-minded producers, two adversaries brought together by mutual economic interests without ever moving their culture-war battle lines.

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​Why Are So Many Horror Films Christian Propaganda?

VICE 10/18/16

When it comes to Christian propaganda films, most people think of the obnoxious God’s Not Dead, or Nic Cage’s get-me-out-of-IRS-debt Left Behind—critically reviled assaults on the secular world that occasionally make a lot of money. But there’s another genre that seems to have the same proselytizing agenda that champions Christianity and demonizes all other faiths (including the faithless): horror movies.

JesusCampThe kids of Jesus Camp, 10 years later: ‘Was it child abuse? Yes and no’

The Guardian 6/6/16

Ten-year-old Andrew Sommerkamp, with his shy demeanor and floppy blond hair, mounts the stage of the Kids On Fire church camp, and nervously tells the crowd that he’s struggling with his belief in God. He’d spent days watching his fellow Christian campers weep uncontrollably, repenting and begging God’s forgiveness, and he has a confession to share.

“I just want to talk about belief in God … I’ve been having a hard time with it,” he says, staring at the ground, scared and confused as the other kids look around at each other with anxiety in their eyes. “To believe in God is hard because you don’t see him, you don’t know him much. Sometimes I don’t even believe what the Bible says. It makes me a faker, it makes me feel guilty and bad.

This is one of several emotionally exhausting scenes in the 2006 documentary, Jesus Camp.

Ten years later, Sommerkamp (yes, that’s his real name) has abandoned evangelical Christianity, living with a group of spiritual seekers in Mount Shasta, California. His split from the evangelical world happening when his father came out as gay. He says he spent several years angry at the church, but has since discovered peace in eastern mysticism, quantum mechanics, and psychotropic drugs.

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Evang Guardian PicApocalyptic upbringing: how I recovered from my terrifying evangelical childhood

The Guardian 4/5/16

One stormy night in the summer of 1992, I walked down the basement steps of my parents’ house to await the apocalypse. The Iowa air was thick with humidity, the ominous green sky prophesying a tornado. My 10-year-old hands trembled as I laid out my inventory: animal crackers, juice boxes, a Bible, and every sharp knife in the kitchen.

My parents were home late and my first thought was that they’d been raptured up to heaven. I was a sinner who had been left behind to face the Earth’s destruction.

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 Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 4.39.08 PM

Would Jesus Celebrate Christmas?

VICE 12/24/15

The holidays wouldn’t be the same without a “war on Christmas.” The annual embittered pleas from evangelicals to “keep Christ in Christmas” have now become as much of a holiday tradition as caroling or “planning” to volunteer at a homeless shelter. Waiting all year to find out what fabricated moment of anti-Jesus discrimination has virally incensed Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh (Starbucks cups? Bet you didn’t see that one coming!) now fills me with the same narcotic anticipation as freshly wrapped presents did when I was a child.

While I admire their enduring tenacity and ceaseless creativity in keeping this up each year, I can’t help but wonder if at some point in their pursuit of a homogenous holiday if they ever stop to wonder: Would Jesus celebrate Christmas?

Considering that the holiday wasn’t even developed until centuries after Jesus’s death, and went through endless mutations, and has been protested by Christians as often as it has been protested by atheists, it’s difficult to know how J.C. would feel about his birthday bonanza.

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marjoeA Look Back at ‘Marjoe,’ the 1972 Documentary About Evangelical Con Men

VICE 10/23/14

Marjoe is the story of an abused child preacher who grows up to become an Evangelical con man, living a double life as a dope-smoking, girl-chasing hippie in LA. The documentary went on to win the 1972 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and earned massive amounts of critical acclaim. But despite the accolades and outrageous story, the film was only played in a handful of theaters on the coasts and was never screened below the Bible Belt. It was eventually forgotten and thought to be lost for good due to the only known copy being badly damaged. However, in 2002, the original negative was rediscovered and the film was released three years later on DVD, introducing Marjoe to a new generation with a greater appetite for films that were critical of religious institutions.

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Screen shot 2015-02-21 at 6.03.03 PMCake Wars: The Christian Jihad On Gay Dessert

VICE 1/29/15

As same-sex marriage inches closer toward legalization nationwide, bakeries have emerged as an unlikely new battleground for those opposed to marriage equality.Attempting to mirror anti-discrimination rulings against bakeries that refuse service to gay couples, activists have been contacting LGBT-affirming bakeries requesting custom cakes frosted with anti-gay slogans. When the bakeries decline, the customer claims religious discrimination.

In the most recent incident, Colorado resident Bill Jack filed a religious discrimination complaint with the state’s civil rights office, after Denver’s Azucar Bakery refusing to make a Bible-shaped cake decorated with two-men holding hands, covered by an “X.” The bakery’s owner, Marjorie Silva, told Out Front Colorado that she offered to “bake the cake in the shape of a Bible, and then I told him I’d sell him a [decorating] bag with the right tip and the right icing so he could write those things himself.”

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Jamaican_ManWhy isn’t Rastafari A Respected Religion?

The Cannabist 11/26/14

At a time when western society is becoming increasingly sensitive to appropriation of American Indian cultures in sports (Washington Redskins) and pop music (Flaming Lips), and eagerly cries foul at any white person costumed as a foreign minority, we are still living in a minstrel-show culture when it comes to the “No problem, mon” depiction of Rastafarians. Ironically, this gap in the PC protocol is an extension of the most successful tool white colonists have used to subjugate black people in both the U.S. and Jamaica’s post-slavery societies: Anti-marijuana propaganda.

The same campaigns that have convinced society that potheads can’t be taken seriously have also led the world to believe that Rastafari is not a real religion, and therefore undeserving of the same reverence and respect we give to other beliefs and traditions.

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SatanisScreen shot 2015-02-21 at 4.54.54 PMm and Guilt-Free Murder in Iowa

VICE 8/19/14 
On the evening of July 18, 2013, Kathy Barlas returned to her home in Mason City, Iowa, to find her adult son waiting in the garage in his underwear, dripping with blood. “Mom, I killed Satan,” Tom Barlas Jr. said to his mother. Did he mean he hurt the dog? “No, Mom, I killed Satan,” he repeated. Kathy entered the house, heading toward her bedroom where she found her husband, Tom Barlas Sr., lifeless on the floor, bleeding from multiple stab wounds. He was dead.

When she returned to the garage, her son was gone. Calling 911, Kathy told the emergency operator that her son might be headed toward the Greek Orthodox Church of Transfiguration. The police eventually found Barlas, who resisted arrest, repeating “God and Jesus Christ,” over and over. The cops used their tasers to subdue him, eventually arresting Barlas for the first degree murder of his father.

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Screen shot 2015-02-21 at 7.32.46 PMFrom Suicide To Salvation, How One Closeted Minister Became An LGBT Hero

Westword 11/28/13

Reverend Brian Henderson is sitting stiffly in a hospital bed, awaiting another visit from the doctor who will ask if he still wants to kill himself.

Henderson is unshaven, his eyes red. He hardly slept the night before and does not know what he will tell the doctor when the time comes. Typically the picture of clean, confident leadership as the minister of Calvary Baptist Church, Henderson is known as the man with the answers, the cornerstone of support and guidance for both his congregation and his family. But Henderson has a secret, a secret he’s held on to for decades, one that threatens the life he knows, one that threatens to make him take his own life. And now, in March 2012, the secret has started to leak out.

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Screen shot 2015-02-21 at 5.41.27 PMSexuality In The Religions Of The World

Out Front Colorado 12/4/12

Sigmund Freud once said, “the behavior of a human being in sexual matters is often a prototype for the whole of his other modes of reaction in life.” That suggests that many religions hands-off approach to sex – feel free to take that phrase figuratively or literally – has been a serious disservice to our moral and spiritual guidance. As the supposed guideposts for spirituality – the instructive link between mortal humans and the divine – religious institutions have forever struggled with the question of how to deal with sex.

Take a look at any of the dozens of major religions today and it won’t be long before you find dead-ends of denial and repression. Some beliefs hoist this banner proudly, while others pay less lip service to their ancient texts commandments of who you are allowed to share your body with.

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Screen shot 2015-04-05 at 6.38.21 PMO Scum All Ye Faithful: Five Iron Frenzy’s Denver Church

Westword 12/25/10

Tucked behind a 7-Eleven and a liquor store, a historic church building rises above the Santa Fe art district. Commissioned in 1881 by former Colorado territorial governor Alexander Hunt, the building was once owned and restored by artist Lonnie Hanzon; you enter through a 300-year-old antique door from Paris, then pass under a cosmically decorated ceiling. The under-the-sea-meets-Mardi Gras-in-space theme continues through the bathrooms and hallways, but it co-exists comfortably with the current occupants. One large room holds scattered rows of chairs and a handful of musical instruments strewn about the far end; two upstairs bedrooms are home to a handful of young crust punks; the garage outside hosts a free bicycle workshop every Sunday afternoon.

This is the new base of the Scum of the Earth Church, a radical group of Christian outcasts hoping their brand of spirituality will find a home here, in a place where they can shed the stereotypes of being both Christians and punk-rockers. In the ten years since its inception, Scum members have congregated in everything from basements to coffeehouses to rented churches to homeless shelters. “Sometimes it’s felt like sleeping on someone’s couch for too long,” says Mike Sares, Scum’s 56-year-old senior pastor. Though he’s comfortable in his church’s new home, which Scum purchased in September 2008, he’s quick to point out that owning a building was never the goal. “The church is the people, not the building,” he says.

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