Evangelicalism

D-Day in New York – It’s About Time

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Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

On August 15, Catholics will celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. That is, supposedly, the date on which the Virgin Mary was bodily hoisted into Heaven, thus ending her earthly life.

The day before, the 14th, just might be D-Day, at least in New York State. That day will mark the beginning of a one-year window in which survivors of child sexual abuse can file civil suits against their abusers, under terms of the Child Victims Act (CVA) passed earlier this year.

Nearly everyone expects a flood of suits to be filed that day. Some will have waited years, even decades for this opportunity: previously, if a child was molested in New York State, he or she could file a lawsuit or seek criminal charges until he or she was 23. Given what we’ve seen, it’s easy to see how this works against victims: it often takes decades for someone (as it did for me) who was molested or abused as a child to speak about it.

After the one-year window provided in the CVA has passed, victims can still file civil suits until age 55 and seek criminal charges until age 28. While these provisions are an improvement on previous statutes — which were among the most victim-unfriendly in the nation — the Empire State will still lag behind its heavily-Catholic neighbor Massachusetts, which gives victims 35 years to sue their abusers.

What galls people such as I, though, is that it took sixteen years for the state legislature to pass the CVA. Although I rarely have kind words for politicians, I must say that some members of the State Legislature–among them Assembly members Brad Hoylman and Linda Rosenthal, both Democrats from Manhattan — should be commended for their efforts. That it took so long is mainly a testament to how hard some organizations fought against them.

Will it surprise any of you to know that two of the main opponents of this Act–and its “window” in particular — are the Boy Scouts of America and — wait for it — the Roman Catholic Church? Although New York is one of the “bluest” states in the country, the Church still wields a fair amount of influence in the politics of both the state and New York City. Church leaders howled that the “window” will result in a flood of lawsuits that could impose “financial hardship” on the state’s dioceses and archdioceses. They have a point: California passed similar legislation in 2003, and within a few years, the dioceses of San Diego and Stockton filed for bankruptcy.

Still, the protestations of Church leaders in New York are at least somewhat disingenuous, if not entirely hypocritical. In claiming that the “window” could lead to thousands of lawsuits, the Church in New York is tacitly conceding that many children (and adults), over many years, have indeed been sexually exploited by priests, nuns and other authority figures such as deacons. But what is less-widely known is that, in a way, the dioceses of the state have implemented some version or another of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), which allows victims to file claims for past sexual abuse. There can be little doubt that this program was implemented because Church leaders knew that passage of the CVA (and similar laws in other states) was all but inevitable, and that by giving victims nominal compensation on the condition of confidentiality, they could forestall a number of lawsuits.

And, while some victims might reap substantial payouts for lawsuits filed under the CVA, it will probably take years to settle and collect. The IRCP process, in contrast, takes months, and therefore may appeal to older victims who don’t want to spend significant portions of their remaining years in a court case. I have little doubt that Church leaders knew this, too.

It will be interesting, to say the least, to see what happens to the individual dioceses as well as the church as a whole as a result of New York’s CVA. For years, individual parishes and Catholic schools (including the one I attended) have been closing, mainly in the five boroughs of New York City, but also in other parts of the state. While few people expect the Archdiocese of New York or the Diocese of Brooklyn to go belly-up, mainly because they still own lots of valuable real estate and other assets, it’s not hard to imagine some of the less-affluent dioceses upstate filing for protection.

I realize that I have focused on the effect the CVA will have on the Catholic Church. So have most of the media. As I mentioned, the Boy Scouts will also be affected. Although the Catholic church is the largest denomination in the State and City (though many claimed members have long since stopped practicing the religion, or even renounced it altogether), there are a number of other religious organizations that could be affected. Chief among them, I believe, are the Hasidic and Ultra-Orthodox communities. (In Orange County, there is a village, Kiryas Joel, which is essentially governed by Satmar Hasidic interpretations of Halakhic law, and most of whose residents speak Yiddish.) In addition, there are a number of insular religious communities ensconced in upstate enclaves and some outer-borough New York City neighborhoods. It’s hard not to believe that some current or former members of such communities will come forward as a result of the CVA.

Whatever happens, I am glad that some people who suffered sexual abuse from priests and other religious leaders will have an opportunity, however brief, to break the hold of their abusers and hold them to account.

Quote of the Day: “The Family”

A secretive organization that has courted political leaders and built international influence while undermining the constitutional division of the church and the state in the process is at the center of a new five-episode documentary series called “The Family.”

Since 1953, the National Prayer Breakfast has remained a fixture in American politics that has boasted attendance by every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower on the first Thursday of every February. It has been hyped as an opportunity for the political elite of Washington, D.C., and visiting international dignitaries to put aside partisan differences and reflect on a higher purpose.

While the annual event is purportedly hosted by members of Congress, it is actually organized and run by an evangelical Christian organization called The Fellowship Foundation, or “The Family,” as it is referred to internally by its members.

The series, which debuts on Netflix on Friday, takes a look at the group that operates with its own higher purpose — quietly building its influence on global politics “in the name of Jesus.”

Video Link

“The Fellowship isn’t about faith and it spreads very little. It’s about power,” said Jeff Sharlet, whose books, “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” and “C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy,” inspired the Netflix series.

“Internally, it is spoken of primarily as a ‘recruiting device’ with which to draw ‘key men’ into smaller prayer cells to ‘meet Jesus man to man,’” according to Sharlet. “Practically, the Prayer Breakfast has functioned from the very beginning as an unregistered lobbying festival.”

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Citing 2006 documents, Sharlet estimates the number of dedicated organizers who handle recruitment at just 350. Those organizers, however, have built a network of prayer cells that the late Christian Right leader Chuck Colson pegged at 20,000-strong, calling it, “a veritable underground of Christ’s men all through government.”

Sometimes that has meant aligning with politicians who stray from Jesus’ example. In 2009, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford gave a press conference outside of C Street emphasizing his religious pedigree upon resurfacing after disappearing from his state for days to visit a mistress in Argentina.

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So, while President Donald Trump may not have the most pious of track records, Sharlet says the Family has embraced the unique opportunity provided by the most fundamentalist Cabinet in recent American history to advocate evangelical policy.

“The Fellowship believes God uses who He wants, and that power itself is an indicator of who He has chosen — it’s a theology of more power for the powerful,” Sharlet explained.

“The fact that Trump, with his “art of the deal,” is especially well-prepared to embrace this transactional theology — Trump puts the Christian Right’s people in power in return of their support — seals the deal.”

— Ethan Sacks, NBC News, Secretive Christian group at heart of D.C. politics ready for its close-up in Netflix docuseries, August 10, 2019

Purchase Books by Jeff Sharlet

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power

C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Sarah Silverman is a Whore of Zionism

adam fannin

Have you heard of this comedian, Sarah Silverman? You guys know what I’m talking about? She brags about [killing Jesus]! Listen, she is a witch. She is a jezebel. She is a God-hating whore of Zionism. I hope that God breaks her teeth out and she dies. She is a wicked person and she is, like, the perfect representation of religious Judaism… I pray that God would give her an untimely death, and it would be evident that it’s at the hand of God.

— Pastor Adam Fannin, Stedfast Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida, 2005

Quote of the Day: Bart Ehrman Asks, “Why am I an Enemy?’

bart ehrman

And so the personal question that I struggle with a good deal.  OK, this is really highly personal, it’s just me.   But I often feel sad about being seen as an “enemy” of the Christian faith.   People tell me I am all the time – both people who despise me and people who are rooting me on.   Yet the views I put out there for public scrutiny are almost NEVER things that I’ve come up with myself, that I’ve dreamt up, that I’m trying to push on others with no evidence or argument – just crazy liberal ideas I’ve come up with to lead people away from the faith.

So why am I an enemy?

Of course I know why, and my views were given additional support last week, at the international meeting of New Testament scholars I attended in Marburg.  I was talking with a German scholar about advanced training in biblical studies in Germany these days, and he told me that in German theological schools (in his experience), students simply are not as a rule very interested in the historical study of the New Testament per.  The kinds of historical issues we deal with on the blog are simply not pressing matters for them.  These are not why they are in theological training, either to teach or to minister in churches.

Instead, he indicated, the ONE question / issue that most of these students have is:  “How can I be Christian in this increasingly secular world?”

Of course they are interested in historical knowledge – but it’s not what’s driving them.  Instead it is an existential question about faith.  That makes so much sense.  It is what was driving me at that stage too.   But when this fellow scholar told me that, I realized even more clearly why I get so much opposition, even in some learned circles.

Most of the people who are in the business of studying the Bible are committed to faith.  That’s what generates their interest.  And these days it is very hard.  Christians are under attack.   From science, from philosophy, from the neo-atheists, from a society/culture that increasingly doesn’t care.   And the problem with someone like me is that I’m not helping the cause.  On the contrary, I’m not just someone from the outside taking potshots at this faith.  I’m someone who came from within it, and left it, with good reasons, and who argues views that are taken by people in the wider culture to be “evidence” that the faith has no good rational basis.  Even though I disagree with that assessment (since I know full well that people can be devout believers but still agree with everything I say) (not that anyone agrees with everything I say) (sometimes *I* don’t agree with everything I say…) – even though I disagree with that assessment, I get it.

Christians – even Christian scholars – want to cling on to their faith, to cherish it, and promote it, and what they see as negative assaults on the basis of their faith is threatening, especially – this is the key point – if it comes from someone who is *outside* the community of faith but who used to be inside it and understands the views of those who are still inside it extremely well, but who now rejects these views.  And says things that can lead others to reject them as well.

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, Who is the Enemy?, August 9, 2019

Black Collar Crime: IFB Preacher Cameron Giovanelli Charged with Sexual Assault

cameron giovanelli

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

In May 2018, I wrote a post about the sexual assault allegations made against Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher and college president Cameron Giovanelli. (Please see Black Collar Crime: IFB Preacher Cameron Giovanelli Accused of Sexual Assault)  Giovanelli resigned from Golden State Baptist College and did what disgraced IFB preachers often do: moved across the country, joined up with one of his preacher buddies, and continued on in the ministry as if nothing happened.

In May 2019, I received word that Giovanelli was in Florida working as the associate pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Giovanelli planned on helping Immanuel Baptist’s pastor, Greg Neal, start a new unaccredited IFB secondary institution called North Florida Baptist College. Neal, himself, was caught up in a sex scandal in 2011 when he was accused of video voyeurism. You can read more about Neal’s brush with the law here and here. Neal, unfortunately, escaped prosecution. (Please see Black Collar Crime: Pastor Cameron Giovanelli Resurrects From the Dead, Found in Florida)

cameron giovanelli charges

Earlier this week, Giovanelli was charged by Baltimore, Maryland County police with sexual abuse of a minor and several other sex crimes. If convicted, Giovanelli faces up to thirty-six years in prison. (Case Information)

WBAL-11 reports:

Police charging documents claim Giovanelli initially tried to teach her how to kiss which turned into a daily encounter and eventually sexual assault. Police say an associate pastor at the church became suspicious. The associate said he confronted Giovanelli and told him to stop and the associate got an email later that night from Giovanelli thanking him.

“[Thanks] for saving his life and saving his ministry …. He thought God sent him to stop him from doing something,” said Giovanelli in police charging documents.

An investigation was opened in May 2018 when the victim reported the abuse to police. The completed investigation was submitted to the office of the state’s attorney, at which time the decision was made to charge Giovanelli.

An arrest warrant was obtained and served on Monday. Giovanelli voluntarily turned himself in to police Tuesday. He was released on his own recognizance at an initial bail hearing under the condition that he have no contact with any minor.

Based on information provided by the victim, police believe it is likely there are additional victims who were abused by Giovanelli during his time as pastor at the church [Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk, Maryland] and school located in the 7300 block of Manchester Road.

 

Quote of the Day: Baptist Preachers Instrumental in Turning the South Red

Crediting the Nixon campaign with the flight of Southern conservatives from the Democratic Party dismisses the role Southerners themselves played in that transformation. In fact, Republicans had very little organizational infrastructure on the ground in the South before 1980, and never quite figured out how to build a persuasive appeal to voters there. Every cynical strategy cooked up in a Washington boardroom withered under local conditions. The flight of the Dixiecrats was ultimately conceived, planned, and executed by Southerners themselves, largely independent of, and sometimes at odds with, existing Republican leadership. It was a move that had less to do with politicos than with pastors.

Southern churches, warped by generations of theological evolution necessary to accommodate slavery and segregation, were all too willing to offer their political assistance to a white nationalist program. Southern religious institutions would lead a wave of political activism that helped keep white nationalism alive inside an increasingly unfriendly national climate. Forget about Goldwater, Nixon or Reagan. No one played as much of a role in turning the South red as the leaders of the Southern Baptist Church. …

It was religious leaders in the South who solved the puzzle on Republicans’ behalf, converting white angst over lost cultural supremacy into a fresh language of piety and “religious liberty.” Southern conservatives discovered that they could preserve white nationalism through a proxy fight for Christian Nationalism. They came to recognize that a weak, largely empty Republican grassroots structure in the South was ripe for takeover and colonization.

— Chris Ladd, Forbes, Pastors, Not Politicians, Turned Dixie Republican, March 27, 2017

Quote of the Day: What Atheists Want

bertrand russell quote 2

We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world – its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is, and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence, and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it.

— Bertrand Russell, Why I am Not a Christian

Purchase Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion

Quote of the Day: The Material Basis of Religious Belief

If you investigate the material basis of religious belief, you immediately confront a phenomenon that operates on many different levels. In particular circumstances and particular settings a faith may function as a guide to morality, or an aesthetic, or a social network, or a collection of cultural practices, or a political identity, or a historical tradition, or some combination of any or all of those things.

You don’t have to be a believer to see that religion genuinely offers something to its adherents (often when nothing else is available) and that what it provides is neither inconsequential nor silly.

— Jeff Sparrow, The Guardian, We can save atheism from the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, November 29, 2015

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: True “Freedom” Comes Only From Jesus

Ken Ham

LGBT activists are selling the lie to hundreds of thousands of individuals, that if they embrace their “true” identity as a homosexual or transgender person (or whatever their feelings tell them), they will find true freedom. But Jesus tells us,

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin…So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31–32, 34, 36)

Living the LGBT lifestyle leads to slavery to sin—it doesn’t give the freedom that it promises! Freedom (for any person) is only found in repentance and putting your faith and trust in Christ alone for salvation. Then the Son, Jesus Christ, will set you free from the yoke of slavery and give you new and eternal life. That’s the message this culture desperately needs to hear!

— Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, Why is There a “Decline in LGBT Acceptance”?, August 8, 2019

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Most Atheists Believe in the Supernatural

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During a UK-based study, Understanding Unbelief, atheists and agnostics from various countries, including Brazil, China, Denmark, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom were interviewed. In the New Scientist overview of the study, they highlighted that the majority of atheists (71%) and agnostics (92%) believed in “at least one supernatural phenomenon or entity,” the most common being a belief in “fate” (“significant life events are meant to be” and “underlying forces of good and evil” exist), but astrology, reincarnation, and karma all made the list as well.

For some atheists/agnostics, it is easy to mix certain aspects of different religions into their worldview. For example, over 8% of Japanese respondents and 1% of Chinese respondents identified themselves as Buddhists. In most forms of Buddhism, there is no personal God or gods, and, ultimately, Buddhism teaches that any “god idea” has its origin in fear, which needs to be mastered and put away by meditation, and that belief in God is not necessary to achieve enlightenment. Buddhism could best be described as non-theistic: that if there are any gods, they don’t matter.

But for most, it is difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile atheism or agnosticism with a religion that believes in God—like Christianity. Nevertheless, atheists and agnostics still borrow many aspects from a biblical worldview—whether they realize it or not. For example, logic, truth, knowledge, morality, and science—which are predicated on the Bible being true—do not come from a materialistic and naturalistic view of things. Atheists and agnostics often agree that logic, truth, morality, and so on exist, but it cannot be justified in their worldview.

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Like everyone, atheists and agnostics long for meaning, purpose, and hope. After all, God has written eternity on their hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), so they know there must be more to this life than what we can see. But their worldview does not offer any ultimate meaning, purpose, or hope. In their worldview, when you die, you cease to exist. That’s it. The end. Or is it? If that were really true, then why do up to 25% of atheist and 35% of agnostic responses “agree” or “strongly agree” that reincarnation exists? And (even more surprisingly) why do up to 30% of atheists and agnostics “agree” or “strongly agree” that life after death exists? That certainly seems like a core-belief contradiction.

Since atheists and agnostics know there is no ultimate meaning, purpose, or hope in that kind of outlook, what do many atheists and agnostics do to give themselves the very thing their worldview cannot supply? They add a (false) hope to their worldview: karma, astrology, fate, reincarnation—or many other things for which the study didn’t account. Each of these beliefs gives some idea that there is more to us and this life than just naturalism. That, somehow, our lives have some kind of cosmic purpose or meaning, and maybe, just maybe, there really is something beyond the here and now.

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But what these atheists and agnostics really need to do is acknowledge the bankruptcy of their worldview and ditch it! They need to give up a worldview that cannot give them what they truly long for and embrace the only one that can: a biblical worldview grounded in the reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Avery Foley and Troy Lacey, Answers in Genesis, Atheists: Believers in Fate, Reincarnation, and Karma?, August 6, 2019

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Recent Mass Shootings are “False Flags”

Cartoon by Adam Zyglis

Unfortunately the tragic events of shootings in El Paso or Dayton increasingly occurring in America appear to be False Flag events perpetrated by conspirators to get rid of the Second Amendment. Once you’re familiar with the pattern, you’re able to identify them.

El Paso and Dayton can be added to Las Vegas and many other recent shootings committed by agents who have no problem killing innocent people. Perhaps one of the most important unanswered questions of our time is why the agents behind them haven’t been exposed or given the death penalty.

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False Flag events are largely possible today because the global media narrative is controlled by six corporations with less than 200 executives. The country orchestrating the False Flag event is powerful enough to intimidate other countries from not exposing what are known as “inside jobs.” Only a few countries have the means to do this– one of which is the United States.

Modern-day False Flag events are used to “discredit or implicate rival groups, create the appearance of enemies when none exist, or create the illusion of organized and directed opposition” that a society may not like.

False Flag events are one of the most effective ideological weapons used on a massive scale today. Manufacturing an enemy among a people who believe they have inalienable rights so that they will be willing to give up those rights requires a sophisticated propaganda system that several intelligence agencies have employed.

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Some investigators point to 9/11 terrorist attacks, the NORAD drills of 9/11, the 7/7 London Bombings, the 2011 Norway shooting, the Aurora shooting, Sandy Hook, and the public shootings in Orlando, South Carolina, West Virginia, California, Nevada and many more as False Flag attacks.

— Bethany Blankley, Hedgerow, Understanding how to identify False Flag Events, August 5, 2019