01: For The Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call for Civic Responsibility, a statement by the National Association of Evangelicals, has sparked controversy over the question of how involved evangelicals should be in activism.
In an early draft given to the press, the statement was reported to call for evangelicals not to ally themselves with any one political party. After a flurry of news stories reporting that evangelicals were on the retreat from political involvement, the NAE quietly jettisoned the language that seemed to discourage the close tie between evangelicals and the Republican Party. Much of the document had sounded traditional conservative themes, stating that “Never before has God given American evangelicals such an awesome opportunity to shape public policy.”
The statement also reiterated evangelical positions on abortion and gay marriage. While not signaling the retreat from Republican activism as first reported, the statement does try to balance an exclusively rightist agenda with more liberal evangelical elements. Left-leaning evangelical Ron Sider was chosen as co-chair of the drafting committee, and the document uses the liberal language of “economic justice” and calling for “legal remedies for the lingering effects of our racist history.”
(Source: World, July 3)
02: While there has been a steady stream of TV programs and movies on religious subjects, such as The Passion of the Christ, far less common are films depicting religious institutions and movements.
Saved! is one such production, satirizing contemporary evangelical youth culture. While the satire is relatively mild, the film colorfully records the staples of contemporary evangelical life — megachurches, contemporary Christian music, ex-gay “reparation therapy,” prolife activism, and creationism — to the point of overdoing it.
The film carries a typical teen plot, with the rebels — a pregnant teen, the skeptic and the lone Jewish student — taking on an evangelical establishment marked by hypocrisy and judgmentalism, mostly over sexual issues.
The movie tries not to be anti-Christian, but it seems that evangelicalism provides one of the few settings left in American culture where rebellion can take on a daring nature.
(Source: RW Editor’s review of Saved; The Revealer, http://www.therevealer.org/archives/feature_print.php?printed= 411)
03: God’s Man in Texas is a fictional play that has struck a chord among clergy and church leaders for its critical portrayal of the megachurch. The play, among the most successful of productions in regional theatres nationwide, is inspired by the ministry of the late Baptist pastor W. A. Criswell, who led a Dallas congregation of nearly 30,000.
The play is about a minister who is called to a church in the midst of revamping its ministry to draw in new people, adding buildings designed to entertain and inspire: a dinner theater, a bowling alley, and a gym. Then he discovers he has strayed from God’s will by becoming a salesman — a theme that audience members say touches on core issues for pastors during an era when the very definition of the church is changing.
(Source: St. Petersburg Times, June 17)
04: FaithfulAmerica.org is similar to other grassroots left organizations seeking to defeat George Bush in November.
Yet the group is one of several groups with a distinct religious left message. In mid-June, the group gained notoriety for taking out ads in two Arab TV networks apologizing on behalf of “Americans of faith” to Muslims for the “sinful and systemic abuses” committed at Abu Ghraib prison. Although FaithfulAmerica.org bears some similarity to secular protest groups such as MoveOn.org, it is not funded by such philanthropists as George Soros, instead relying on small donations.
The group, along with such organizations as the Center for American Progress and Clergy Leadership Network, is part of an attempt to push more religious Democrats into political involvement and activism.
(Source: The Economist, June 19)
05: Abdullah Gymnastiar has been described as more of a self-help guru than Muslim scholar, but the 42-year-old broadcaster has created an Islamic media empire in Indonesia Widely known as Aa Gym, he has built a following unrivaled among his fellow Muslim clerics by “marrying soft, sonorous words of counsel and tearful prayer delivered in Indonesian rather than the traditional Arab.
He estimates that he reaches 60 million people weekly through television and radio, not including his books, cassettes, videos, newspaper, management seminars and aphorisms printed on the soft drink he markets, Qolbu Cola. Trained as an engineer, Gymnastiar plays down an inevitable conflict between the West and the Islamic world (while condemning the U.S. for the Iraq war) and claims that imposing sharia, or Islamic law, is not his priority. It is his playful, humorous and at times bawdy preaching along with a self-help message that has won him a large audience.
(Source: Washington Post, June 2)