Cornerstone Church, the nondenominational evangelical congregation in San Antonio helmed by Christians United for Israel’s John Hagee, has built a new, $5 million ark for the younger members of its flock, slated to open Saturday:
… the scale and sophistication of Cornerstone’s new facility — and particularly its collection of electronically controlled animal replicas — might be unmatched nationally, say experts in Christian children’s ministry. Nine of the 16 creatures will be animatronic, created by Animal Makers, a Southern California firm that specializes in robotic animals for Hollywood movies. Some are new, and some were formerly leased. The rhino, for example, had a short appearance in the John Cusack film “2012,” [Matthew -- JB] Hagee said.
Asked whether the animatronics was too extravagant, Hagee said no — not when today’s culture bombards children with competing venues for their attention on Sundays, from recreational sports to theme parks to kid-themed pizza restaurants. “If casinos can build opulent buildings to incentivize gamblers to want to come and enjoy their weekend, how then can you justify not building something that would incentivize people to come and hear about the Word of God?” he said. “I don’t have any problem with somebody saying it’s over the top.”
The writer goes on to quote a “children’s ministry expert”–an editor of Children’s Ministry Magazine–who says it’s a great idea that the church is “competing with things that capture kids’ attention.”
Such is the prevailing wisdom of children’s ministry advocates today. It dovetails with the view that a main goal of youth ministry is to create a “safe” environment for kids to socialize with other Christians. Matthew Hagee says it himself–he wants to “incentivize” children like casinos “incentivize” gamblers. Bring the kids in with flashy theatrics and animatronic animals, and hope they stay for the five-minute testimonials and worship band.
The impulse to protect one’s children from the sins of the world is an understandable one. But as a practical matter it’s an ambitious goal–requiring considerable resources, pastoral and otherwise, that smaller congregations are unlikely to be able to muster. And desirable as it is, young Christians need more than a vaguely Christianized social space.
What is the appropriate amount of time and resources a church should devote toward creating one? I don’t have the answer, but it’s probably somewhere short of $5 million for an animatronic ark.
This circle-the-wagons mentality goes beyond youth ministry. One of the demographic observations in Becoming Right (my review here) is that collegiate evangelicals are less interested in conservative politics than other Christians, despite sharing many of the same views. The suggestion was that they preferred to meet both their social and spiritual needs in campus ministries. The decline of the religious right as a political force is usually attributed to the fact that the children of evangelicals don’t remain evangelicals, but I do wonder if this social self-segregation doesn’t play a role. It seems increasingly true that those who caution Christians to be “in it not of it” aren’t even really in it anymore.
The Pope has resigned. He has not died, or been taken up like Elijah, but resigned because “both strength of mind and body are necessary” for his work and he is running out of one, the other, or both.
The history books will likely see this as an emblematic moment of an old dilemma with profoundly new reach and seriousness: we are starting to outlive our competency, outlive our health. What makes the Pope such a particularly compelling example is how his office aspires to permanence and timelessness, for he gives us a very public display of our nature as finite, limited creatures endowed with that transcendent, troublesome ability to participate in the infinite. For millions beyond the Catholic Church itself, he is the man most associated with the quest to stretch ourselves beyond our sins and earthy limitations, towards a higher calling. Ross Douthat wrote in the immediate aftermath of the announcement that:
“There is great symbolic significance in the fact that popes die rather than resign: It’s a reminder that the pontiff is supposed to be a spiritual father more than a chief executive (presidents leave office, but your parents are your parents till they die), a sign of absolute papal surrender to the divine will (after all, if God wants a new pope, He’ll get one), and a illustration of the theological point that the church is still supposed to be the church even when its human leadership isn’t at fighting trim, whether physically or intellectually or (for that matter) morally.”
And yet Pope Benedict XVI resigned. Instead of waiting to be called heavenward he exercised his own judgment (profoundly informed by long and searching prayer, doubtlessly) that he was no longer fit for the office to which he had been called. What does it mean to outlive a post meant for a lifetime? Read More…
“Love of one is a barbarism; for it is exercised at the expense of all others. The love of God, too.”
–Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Woolly Mammoth is a D.C. theater company known for edgy playwrights and subject matter—Mike Daisey vs. Apple, the JonBenet Ramsey case, things like that. In its current production, Danai Gurira’s The Convert (playing through March 10), Woolly takes on an even more daring topic: conflicted, but real, Christian faith. It’s a terrific, intense, and genuinely provocative show which earns every minute of its three-hour running length.
The Convert is set in 1890s Rhodesia. Its all-black cast includes Christians and animists and in-betweeners, compromisers and rebels and scammers. It begins when a rural girl, Jekesai, flees an arranged marriage. She takes refuge at the home of the local missionary (a sincere but worldly man, who aims to break the color line by being ordained to the Catholic priesthood) and converts to Christianity in a rush of need, high emotion, and garbled prayers.
Over time Jekesai—renamed Esther—becomes the missionary’s favored protégée. She knows the Bible backwards and forwards, and her faith is deep and vivid. The Convert is a play capable of using its head and its heart at once: We’re shown Jekesai/Esther’s mixed motives. We come to understand that her faith, like that of virtually all new or relatively-untested Christians, is faith in many things at once—in her own abilities, in her “Master” the missionary; and, I think, in a certain sense that the world’s injustice has limits. But she also has genuine, fiercely strong faith in Christ.
The first parts of the three-act play explore the heartbreaking choices and compromises Jekesai/Esther makes or refuses to make. She breaks from her family because she’s told that she must: they’re pagans. She takes the missionary seriously—maybe more seriously than he takes himself, as it turns out—when he says that he had to choose a new father for himself after his conversion. But she allows him to counsel her to compromise the Gospel when it comes to racism. He warns her that she can’t correct whites when they make mistakes about Scripture, and although she tries to argue that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, (importantly) male nor female… in the end she gives in. Read More…
The pope’s decision to resign Feb. 28 establishes in the most orderly way possible a precedent that had to be set sooner or later. Medical technology has reached the point where a pope may live long past his ability to discharge his duties, and the lives of popes will only be getting longer. Quite apart from whatever personal health concerns might lie behind this decision, Benedict’s reputation as a stalwart conservative makes him just the man to pull off this reform—no one can say that the precedent lacks authority for having been set by a modernizer or theological lightweight.
The move both strengthens and weakens the papacy, and for the better in each case. Future popes are more likely to serve only as long as they are vigorous, which in the troubled times the Church faces for the foreseeable distance is an imperative. But the existence of ex-popes will also help to remind the faithful that the pontiff’s authority is in his office, not himself. The haste with which John Paul II has been pushed for canonization—by popular demand—illustrates a dangerous confusion, one with ancient roots but one exacerbated by today’s cult of the celebrity. It takes little imagination to guess what would have happened if John Paul, rather than Benedict, had been the first Bishop of Rome in modern times to resign: for too many of the faithful, John Paul in retirement would held more authority than the successor who actually occupied the See of St. Peter.
The pope should not become a celebrity whose personal qualities threaten to eclipse the office itself. And while the charisma (in Weber’s sense) of a John Paul II might not be repeated any time soon, popes to come may inspire excessive personal devotion in other ways. Benedict has shown that the man and the office are not inseparable, and not identical once joined.
I’m loath to give any attention to the National Prayer Breakfast on this here plot of blog–it’s more civil religion spectacle than anything else, not to mention it’s put on by a financially opaque pseudo-ministry that thrives on cultivating relationships with Washington’s powerful. But this speech by neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson is well worth your time, if only because I don’t think the event has ever featured a speech this critical of a sitting president’s policies.
In addition to repeatedly mentioning his hatred for “political correctness,” Dr. Carson explicitly endorsed the idea of health savings accounts starting at birth, contra Obamacare’s approach:
When a person is born, give him a birth certificate, an electronic medical record, and a health savings account to which money can be contributed — pretax — from the time you’re born ’til the time you die. When you die, you can pass it on to your family members, so that when you’re 85 years old and you got six diseases, you’re not trying to spend up everything. You’re happy to pass it on and there’s nobody talking about death panels.
Number one. And also, for the people who were indigent who don’t have any money we can make contributions to their HSA each month because we already have this huge pot of money. Instead of sending it to some bureaucracy, let’s put it in their HSAs. Now they have some control over their own health care.
The Washington Times reports Dr. Carson “upstaged” the president:
Mr. Carson spoke of his disdain for political correctness, calling it a “dangerous” and “horrible thing” that has led to such ridiculous fears as wishing people Merry Christmas, according to The Blaze.
He also talked about the moral decay of American, and cautioned of a Rome-like fate, and — in front of Mr. Obama, who sat just feet from the podium — confronted the issue of America’s debt and current fiscal policy.
“Our deficit is a big problem,” Mr. Carson said, according to The Blaze. “Think about it — and our national debt — $16 and a half trillion dollars.” And here’s one of his most daring lines, as reported by The Blaze: “What about our taxation system — so complex there is no one that can possibly comply with every jot and tittle. When I pick up my Bible, you know what I see? I see the fairest individual in the universe — God — and he’s given us a system. It’s called tithe.”
If you’d like to compare the two speeches yourself, the president’s is here.
Some people watch the Super Bowl for the ads. I’m not one of them, but I was struck by this spot for Dodge trucks. I watched the game at a party in the heart of hipster Brooklyn. No one in the room cared much about farmers or trucks. But the room fell silent when the ad came on.
That’s an impressive feat of advertising. But I couldn’t help noticing how silly the non-commercial message was. Here is the script, which is excerpted from a monologue by the folksy broadcaster Paul Harvey:
And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a caretaker.” So God made a farmer.
God said, “I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the field, milk cows again, eat supper, then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board.” So God made a farmer.
God said, “I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt and watch it die, then dry his eyes and say,’Maybe next year,’ I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from an ash tree, shoe a horse with hunk of car tire, who can make a harness out hay wire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. Who, during planting time and harvest season will finish his 40-hour week by Tuesday noon and then, paining from tractor back, put in another 72 hours.” So God made the farmer.
God said, “I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bales, yet gentle enough to yean lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-comb pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the leg of a meadowlark.”
It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed, and brake, and disk, and plow, and plant, and tie the fleece and strain the milk, . Somebody who’d bale a family together with the soft, strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh, and then sigh and then reply with smiling eyes when his son says that he wants to spend his life doing what Dad does. “So God made a farmer.”
Several commenters have noted the distance between this vision and the reality of industrial agriculture. Some have also pointed out that the ad shows only white and black faces, even though Hispanics make up the vast majority of America’s farmer workers.
But it’s also worth noting, as the Canadian journalist Jeet Heer (@heerjeet) observed on Twitter, what lousy theology the ad articulates. According to the Bible, the first farmer wasn’t a pious caretaker of God’s creation. Rather it was Cain, who is best known for killing his brother.
It’s not clear why God preferred the shepherd Abel’s offering, provoking Cain’s murderous envy. But it does appear that the labor of farming is a punishment for Cain’s crime. Here’s how God describes the condition of the farmer: “When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth” (Genesis 4:12). That’s hardly a ringing endorsement.
Passages in Leviticus and the prophetic books imply a more favorable divine attitude toward agriculture. But nothing in either Testament, as far as I’m aware, asserts a comprehensive superiority of farming over pastoral or urban styles of life. Indeed, Cain himself was the founder of the first city, which he named for his son Enoch. In the Bible, town and country aren’t poles of piety and vice, but consequences of the same sin.
This misreading of Scripture didn’t interfere with the ad’s success. That’s because, like other products designed to flatter our populist instincts, it has little to with the Biblical sources whose authority it claims. Rather, “God Made a Farmer” reflects the blend of American civil religion, Jeffersonian idealism, and corporate capitalism that has long defined America’s public culture. The power of the ad suggests the formula still sells, even to consumers who regard themselves as too sophisticated for such a cloying brew.
In the entry on judicial activism found in the classic Prejudices: A Philosophical Dictionary, Robert Nisbet wrote of the “whole web of authority that naturally exists in any society, a web spun by family, locality, voluntary association, business enterprise, profession, and civil law.” Conservatives properly cherish the autonomy of this “web of authority,” while recognizing that it can, at times, be a haven for terrible injustice.
Having read that last sentence, the Jim Crow regime of the old South is probably on the tip of your tongue: wasn’t it necessary, in that case, for the federal government to intrude into that that web and impose its will?
I agree that it was.
But not every injustice rises to the level of Jim Crow.
Take the question of the Boy Scouts of America’s policy of barring membership to gays. Even if one believes that gays fundamentally have the right to marry, it’s less obvious to me that they have a right to join the Boy Scouts. As the Supreme Court, narrowly but correctly, decided in a 2000 case involving an expelled scoutmaster in New Jersey, the BSA is not a motel, restaurant, or “public accommodation” of any kind; it is a private organization whose First Amendment-guaranteed freedom of association trumps your desire, however blameless, to serve in it.
But if the Supreme Court is the court of final appeal in our legal system, it is not the final word of civil society. Thirteen years later, the BSA has signaled, with a microcosmic nod to the principles of federalism, that it will let local chapters decide whether to admit gay scouts and scout leaders.
So instead of a controversial legal remedy, followed by years of embittered acquiescence, the BSA is changing voluntarily. The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins would insist, not without reason, that we should use the word “voluntarily” advisedly. “If the board capitulates to the bullying of homosexual activists, the Boy Scouts’ legacy of producing great leaders will become yet another casualty of moral compromise. The Boy Scouts should stand firm,” he said in a statement.
Time will tell if the Boy Scouts’ compromise renders their mission, well, compromised. But it strikes me that private actors adjudicated this conflict on their own. It required no diktat from the executive branch or the federal bench. Social peace has been preserved.
Reform, sometimes, is organic.
Says civil society: “Yes we can.”
Liel Liebovitz profiles the settler leader and tech entrepreneur Naftali Bennett, who leads the Habayit Hayehudi (“Jewish Home”) party, which is likely to become the second-biggest in the Knesset after Israel’s elections next week. The piece is unusually helpful for readers like myself, who find Israel’s domestic politics somewhat baffling. Just a few months ago, Avigdor Lieberman was Israel’s most prominent nationalist politician. Due to legal problems, however, Lieberman is now out of favor–and Bennett is benefiting from his fall.
The most interesting thing about the piece is the way it places Bennett’s career in historical context. Although it is now among the most powerful elements in Israeli society, the so-called “national religious” faction that Bennett represents was originally marginal to the Zionist movement, which was militantly secular. Then:
The Six Day War fundamentally changed the game, emboldening Kook’s followers and believers in religious Zionism. Under the tutelage of [Rabbi Abraham Isaac] Kook’s son Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, a new generation of young religious Zionists came to see their mission as once again settling the newly liberated lands. It was as much, perhaps, a personal awakening as it was a theological one: The 1967 generation, the sons and daughters of religious Zionism’s original guard, looked at their parents—milquetoast, many of them foreign-born, nearly all of them political moderates—and boasted that they would do better. They would rebuild the Jewish state east of the Green Line.
Thus, the settler movement was born—and the religious Zionist movement was split in two. On the one hand, the older generation continued to understand itself in terms of the old balancing act between the dictates of the Torah and the ethos of the state, a challenge that doomed them to play second fiddle on either side of the church-state divide. On the other, the new generation was awash in Messianic zeal. In 1967, for example, one of its most incandescent leaders, Hanan Porat, wrote with characteristic ecstasy: “Here I am—for the priesthood, for the kingdom, to kill, to be killed. O Lord, here I am. … This is how I understand the true meaning of the word pioneer.”
Bennett is the political heir of the “pioneers” of the settlements. Although he has an affable manner, his proposals during the campaign include annexation of 62 percent of the West Bank and continued military control of the rest. As an opponent of a two-state solution, Bennett’s popularity is bad news not only for Palestinians, but also for American interests in the region. At the same time, it provides a useful reminder that religious nationalism is the only ideology that retains it appeal to ordinary people in Israel and around the world (including the United States). One of the challenges of a “realist” foreign policy that eschews divine sanction is to take account of this fact without embracing it.
In 2008 I wrote “Grotesquerie and Grief: Abortion in Horror Media,” which looked at two common ways abortion appears in horror movies, comics, and prose. Last night I watched 2012′s “The Frozen” (trailer here) and while the movie is a mess, it’s a fascinating attempt to tell a different kind of story. Some spoilers below the cut.
Opposition to Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense is focusing on his on-the-record criticisms of Israeli policy. Beneath those criticisms, Hagel’s opponents claim, lies his alleged distaste for “the Jews”. The convicted liar Elliott Abrams has gone so far as to describe Hagel as “bigoted against Jews”. Bret Stephens echoes the charge (link behind paywall), which can be found in even coarser versions around the internet.
If these accusations had any basis, you’d expect Jewish organizations to work against Hagel’s nomination. For the most part, however, they’ve refused to do so. Arguably the most prominent group, the Anti-Defamation League, is holding its tongue. The more hawkish American Jewish Committee is urging that Hagel’s nomination be considered carefully, but is not committing itself to opposition. And the head of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Policy, Nathan Diament, has signalled a non-confrontational approach in public statements and on Twitter.
So “the Jews” can hardly be said to oppose Hagel, although many individual Jews clearly do. Where does organized resistance to his nomination come from? As Jennifer Rubin observes, it’s largely a product of the Christian Zionist movement. In fact, two of the most active sources of opposition are Christians United for Israel and Concerned Women for America. The leadership of both groups is inspired by eschatology based on the Book of Revelation, according to which the resettlement of the Jews in the whole of the Biblical holy land is a prelude to the return of Christ.
This divergence between the Jews as an organized community and of Christian supporters of Israel movement reflects an amazing transformation of America’s relation to Israel. Until the 1990s, the “pro-Israel” lobby was rooted in the activism and financial support of American Jews. Hagel was alluding to this fact when he used the rather unpleasant term “Jewish lobby” to describe American supporters of Israel.
Since then, however, American Jews have adopted more dovish views. In addition to their overwhelming support for a two-state solution, younger American Jews are less likely than their parents to see Israel as the centerpiece of Jewish identity. As a result, Jews are probably more likely than other Americans to support the foreign policy positions for which Hagel has been criticized (similar views are fairly common on the Israeli left). In any case, they voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, despite extensive and expensive efforts to shift Jewish votes into the Republican column.
At the same time, Christian Zionists have mobilized in favor of unconditional support for Israel’s increasingly hawkish governments. In addition to organizing hundreds of thousands of voters, groups like Christians United for Israel have cultivated links with Israeli politicians and activists who defend the occupation, as well as a relatively small clique of American Jewish hawks. Matt Yglesias describes the result as the “Post-Jewish Pro-Israel Movement“, which replaces the old “Jewish Lobby” with an alliance between millenarian Christians and the Israeli right, in which American Jews are little more than figureheads.
I agree with Yglesias that the Post-Jewish Pro-Israel Movement is bad both for Israel and for America. Nevertheless, it is extremely influential–and serves as the real base of opposition to Hagel. Hagel does have an “Israel” problem. But it’s a mainly a problem with Christian Zionists and their figureheads.
Update: I have been informed by a CUFI representative that the group rejects my characterization of their motives. They encourage readers to consider this op-ed by John Hagee as a statement of their principles.