As an evangelical who is also a news junkie, my daily fix is often undermined by a certain amount of dread. You see, evangelicals and evangelicalism make the national news on a regular basis, and we almost always look like idiots when it happens. Blame media bias or schadenfreude for the frequency of such accounts of stunning stupidity or shameless hypocrisy if you like; it seems poetic justice to me that those claiming personal relationships with God endure public humiliation if they turn out to be hypocrites, and the simply dumb make news regardless of creed. Even so, some news stories involving evangelicals each year strike me as particularly cringe-worthy and embarrassing.
Crucially, I know I’m not alone. I know other evangelicals feel the same dread when they see the word ‘evangelical’ in a headline, and I know other evangelicals are equally tormented when a member of our community acts the fool. For that reason and in the hope of a cathartic group experience, permit me to present my last post of 2012 and my first of 2013: a list of the ten most embarrassing evangelical news stories of 2012. Part one runs today, and – to ensure I don’t miss any Monday night lunacy – the final half will run later this week.
To steal from Bill Simmons, before I get to the actual list of 10, here are a few evangelical news stories that earned honorable mention in this collection of the year’s most embarrassing events:
Todd Akin Congressman Akin, I bet – if you could – you would unsay that women’s bodies can prevent pregnancies in the event of actual rape. I bet it came out wrong, and I imagine you grew as a result of it in ways that are admirable and will be of use to the God in whom we both believe. But still. The science side of that statement is so wrong it sounds like it was spoken by a sinister Catholic Cardinal in a medieval period flick on the BBC. Also, as a politician, you’re entitled to fight the culture war on whatever ground you choose, but if you really want to battle over whether or not “no means no,” I speak for most evangelicals when I say we won’t be behind you. We’ll be looking for someone who doesn’t need more than one opportunity to clarify that date rapes (and other, frequently less “forcible” rapes) are wrong, because the whole medieval villain thing is embarrassing us.
Billy Graham and Mormonism To be fair, it hasn’t been established that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s decision to rescind Mormonism’s listing as a cult on their website was a result of Mitt Romney’s visit to Billy Graham in October. But what a coincidence! Right after Mitt Romney visited Rev. Graham, Mormonism stopped being a cult! Understand: the word ‘cult’ is complicated, and I’m not saying we should necessarily apply the pejorative to Mormonism. But I’m pretty sure it’s OK to be embarrassed that Republican politics appears to trump theology in defining cults.
As for the actual list, here are the first five:
10) Dinesh D’Souza Gets Engaged Before He’s Divorced The 10th most embarrassing evangelical news story this year involved Dinesh D’Souza and the end of his tenure as President of The King’s College in New York. A figure beloved by many conservatives for his movie, 2016: Obama’s America, I assure you that D’Souza is not on this list for embracing conspiracy theories about our president that make Michael Moore look nonpartisan. Instead, this evangelical of recent vintage makes the list for his speedy and unplanned exit as president of the aforementioned evangelical school after admitting to confusion over whether or not the evangelical understanding of marriage frowns on people proposing to their second wife before actually divorcing their first wife. While Mr. D’Souza is no longer confused by that question, we remain embarrassed by his momentary confusion.
9) Grand Canyon University (GCU) Refuses a Multimillion Dollar Gift Because They Can’t Squeeze Millions More out of Massachusetts As student debt ascends to the stratosphere in what some are calling a crisis, the role of for-profit universities – universities that try not merely to break even on educating a student, but to generate a profitable return for investors – has come under much criticism, since universities run for profit often have lower graduation rates, higher student loan default rates, and higher prices. That’s not true at all for-profit universities, mind you, but the idea of a Christian for-profit university (like GCU) definitely seems a little sketchy. None of which is news. What is, however, is the fact that this year a Christian philanthropist – after a detailed selection process – decided to give a valuable Massachusetts campground to Grand Canyon University for free, but after initially accepting the offer, Grand Canyon realized it would be unable to extort additional free millions from the local taxpayers of Massachusetts and declined. As a business decision, it may have been correct and perfectly defensible. But as an explicitly Christian business already operating in an ethical gray area, the appearance of avarice – however defensible from a business perspective – is embarrassing.
8) Heart OMG Visit this site immediately if you haven’t already done so. To be blunt, I can’t decide which is more embarrassing about it: on the one hand, this could be legitimate and there may be Christians in Southern California who really do think this meets a pressing need of the evangelical community, and that would be very embarrassing. On the other hand, this seems far more likely to be a hipster effort to make piles of ironic money at the expense of the church, while also securing a few dollars from irony-immune evangelicals to boot; such brutal lampooning of the evangelical desire for cultural conformity would also be embarrassing. Either way, this is the 8th most embarrassing event in this year’s evangelical news.
7) Angus T. Jones Calls the Show that Pays Him ‘Filth’ but Keeps Going to Work and Cashing His Checks It made entertainment headlines nationwide when Two and a Half Men star Angus T. Jones filmed his testimony for a church group, called the show that pays him $350,000 per episode (just under $4m per year) ‘filth,’ and subsequently saw the recording go viral. Jones – a young man and a young believer – has repeatedly apologized to his coworkers for the statement, but you have to admire how earnest he is in his lucidity. After all, in potentially torpedoing his future (his co-star Ashton Kutcher reportedly wants him fired over the incident; one can only imagine how Jones would assess the notorious horndog’s actual life), Jones managed to confirm the truth of two things about which nobody in America had any doubts: Two and a Half Men is horrible television, and Christians really can be shamelessly oblivious hypocrites. Keep cashing those checks, Angus. We’re embarrassed by what you did, but $4m/year buys a lot of forgiveness, and time will bring greater wisdom and savvy.
6) Every Story about “Sovereign Grace Ministries” Last year this group of charismatic Reformed evangelicals – SGM is essentially a denomination – saw their leader and founder C.J. Mahaney take a leave of absence to consider charges against him that included being prideful, being unapproachable (unentreatable is his word), and a hypocrite. He came back this year, which should be a happy story of repentance and reconciliation. It’s not, but for the reasons why, I refer you to Google. I know that sounds vague, but SGM has a history of divisions and I don’t want to get sued, so that’s all I’m writing about them. Just Google SGM already and see if you aren’t embarrassed (or appalled…).