The Religious Right is Dead, Long Live the Religious Right

Moore Dobson collage HQ

Words fail to express how tragic it has been to watch the complete capitulation of old-guard evangelicalism to the giant con that is Donald Trump’s candidacy. Words do not fail me when I think about how disgusting it is that Trump doesn’t even have to pretend to give a damn about the things evangelicals hold dear. But I’m trying to keep this PG-rated here. (Meanwhile, I notice that he finally paused to acknowledge SCOTUS’s disastrous abortion ruling with the astute observation that if Scalia were still alive, the vote would have been 5-3 “the opposite way.” Oh, wait, actually, we would still have lost 5-4, never mind. But don’t worry, I’m sure Trump will hire the best people to do math for him once he’s elected President.)

The latest and most painful development in this slow-motion train-wreck is James Dobson’s choice to join Trump’s religious “advisory” board, while simultaneously spreading what he later clarified was only a second-hand rumor that Trump had “accepted Christ.” The real kicker? The person who some people say they heard from their cousin’s sister-in-law’s aunt might have led Trump to Christ is (drumroll please) Paula White.

So yeah, if you need me, I’ll be under all my blankets sobbing in a fetal curl. Wake me up when Jesus comes back.

What’s that you say? I can’t just hide in bed until the apocalypse? What, are you gonna tell me the death of the religious right does not equal the death of the church, or something?

I should have known.

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O Death, Where Is Thy Sting?

Grant us grace always to live in such a state that we may never be afraid to die, so that, living and dying, we may be thine… — The Book of Common Prayer

I was sad to read the other day that bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley (sometimes called Dr. Ralph Stanley, for his honorary doctorate of music from Lincoln Memorial University) had died. I’ve never studied his catalogue in depth, but like everyone else, I knew his performance of “O Death” from Oh Brother Where Art Thou? Originally, it wasn’t meant to be a bare-bones acappella number, but Stanley convinced the producers to let him sing it Primitive Baptist style, like the church where he grew up: no banjo, no guitar, no nothin’. Just Ralph’s reedy, old man voice, asking death to spare him over ’til another year.

When I first heard “O Death,” I thought it was one of the most remarkable songs I’d ever heard. Though virtually tuneless, it is arresting, even riveting, in Dr. Stanley’s able hands. It has the primal quality of so many early American folk songs—the kind of songs that are unerringly in tune with all that we know, and love, and fear. There is no cheap sentiment here, no sanctimony or pious platitude to cover the naked truth.

If you look closely at the lyrics, you can tell that the speaker is meant to be a younger man who is not yet ready to die. He’s being tended by his mother, and he asks the ice-cold specter to “please consider his age.” This makes it all the more striking for Stanley to cover it as an old man full of years. The phrase “please consider my age” takes on a different meaning, almost like a private joke between Old Ralph and Old Death.

It’s welcome news that Stanley remained implacably Christian to the last. This adds yet another layer to this, his most haunting performance. It is a reminder that Death is merely the means of separating soul from body. It summons us to heaven or to hell, but God alone decides which. I close my eyes and try to picture Stanley as he must be now: as C. S. Lewis said, a creature of surpassing brightness which, if you could see it, you would be strongly tempted to worship.

Well what is this that I can’t see,
With ice cold hands takin’ hold of me?
Well I am death, none can excel,
I’ll open the door to heaven or hell.

VidAngel is Being Sued, But It’s Probably Just as Well

In recent months, you may have noticed ads for a relatively new movie filtering service called VidAngel. Based in Utah (probably owned by a bunch of Mormons), it operates on a buyback model, where moviegoers can buy a movie, stream it through VidAngel’s content filters, then sell it back to VidAngel within 24 hours for a net loss of only $1. Well, sort of. Technically, if you read the fine print, you were paid back in VidAngel credit, so that you’d get a discount on the next movie you rented with them. See what they did there?

Anyway, it didn’t take long for Disney, Fox, Lucasfilm inter alia to notice the company in a legal way. You can read all about the team they’re assembling for the defense, posted last week on their blog.  They seem confident about their chances, believing they’ve discovered a loophole that will allow them to continue operating. The comments on this article provide good summaries of the state of the law and theories about how good their case actually is. Not being a legal expert, I’ll let others make those predictions. At any rate, this kind of legal battle is merely the latest in a long string of Hollywood vs. Mormon Video Editing Outfit battles. I’ll let you figure out who typically comes out on top, although in fairness, the most recent one was decided in the Mormon company’s favor, using the same legal team VidAngel is now hiring.

To be honest, I find it difficult to care who wins or loses this case. In fact, given the way this particular site has compiled and marketed its content, I can think of a couple reasons why it might be just as well if it went away.

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Orlando Aftermath: Between Sentiment and Vitriol

Police in Orlando direct family members away from the scene of the shooting.

There has been no shortage of Christian think pieces about Orlando in the last 36 hours. Almost without exception, their headlines are variations on the “here’s how Christians ought to react” theme. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this. It’s the template Christian pundits are expected to follow in the wake of any national atrocity. But I trust my readers to decide for themselves how they choose to react to the events of Sunday morning. So I simply offer my observations on the Orlando aftermath, in hopes that they will distinguish themselves in some way from what you have already encountered.

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The Transgender Phenomenon: Why Mark Yarhouse is Dead Wrong

As usual, I am approximately two weeks behind the hot issue of the week, but in this particular case, since literally nobody else is out there saying what I’m about to say, I figured what the heck. Might as well get out there and offend someone.

The name “Mark Yarhouse” might not ring a bell with the average reader. He’s a Christian psychiatrist at Regent College who has conducted multiple studies on gender and sexuality and is touted by outlets like Christianity Today and The Gospel Coalition as “the leading Christian scholar” on gender dysphoria. A full bio is available here (which includes other resumee items like the facilitation of various “dialogues” between homosexuals and Christians). Last year, he wrote a long-form piece for Christianity Today condensing the highlights of his book Understanding Gender Dysphoria. A couple weeks ago, he appeared on their podcast to weigh in on the bathroom wars and Obama’s executive order.

Ordinarily, I don’t pay much attention to what Christianity Today is up to these days. They lost me a while ago. But since this recent interview with Yarhouse was highlighted in the newsletter for Summit Ministries, a solid conservative organization for whom I’ve been freelancing this past year, I was curious. As soon as I had clicked their link and realized Yarhouse was the guest, my heart sank, because I knew just what to expect. And it’s hardly “helpful,” “thoughtful,” “useful,” or any of the other milquetoast adjectives that have been used to describe Yarhouse’s work.

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