2012 is gone, and with it died the opportunity for the following five newsmakers to escape my naughty list. In the event you missed it, I introduced and presented the first half of my Top Ten Embarrassing Evangelical News Stories of 2012 here. And now, the five most embarrassing evangelical news stories of 2012:
5) Lifeway Christian Stores Refuses to Shelve Rachel Held Evans’ Vagina Lifeway is owned by the Southern Baptists, which makes it the most powerful retailer in the world of Christian publishing. Rachel Held Evans, meanwhile, is an evangelical nonfiction writer and blogger with a gift for both clarity and angering certain misogynistic corners of the evangelical kingdom. The two clashed this year when Held Evans’ book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, was published by Thomas Nelson but Lifeway refused to sell it in their stores. Lifeway wouldn’t say why, but Held Evans speculated that it was because the book – which chronicled a year of her life spent adhering as literally as possible to every biblical directive for women – included the word vagina.
Admittedly, Held Evans was never actually told that the word vagina was the issue for Lifeway, but that’s the story that made the news and Lifeway couldn’t have been less concerned with correcting the public perception, so I’m going to offer a ruling that we’re free to draw our own conclusions. When it comes to vaginas, women, and thinking critically about scripture, I’ll be directing the benefit of my doubts to Rachel Held Evans and my embarrassment towards Lifeway.
4) The Squabble Between Dawn Harper, Kellie Wells, and Lolo Jones As perhaps the 2nd most outspoken Christian athlete in the United States, Olympic hurdler (and now bobsledder) Lolo Jones received a mountain of attention before and during the London Olympics. When she failed to medal in her race, however, while two of her American teammates performed to expectations and bested her, the fireworks began. Harper and Wells – who finished second and third respectively in the women’s 100m hurdles – crowed on national television about their hard work, hinting that they deserved the spotlight that had instead shone on Jones to that point. Jones, never out of the spotlight for long, was later given the opportunity to confirm on television that this hurt her feelings.
Which sounds like typically immature and narcissistic athletes arguing over glory and fame, except for the wrinkle that Harper and Wells – while inarguably less celebrated (media racism alert: they have darker skin) – are both outspoken Christians as well. So the entire public feud over hurt feelings, earned medals, and media fame was the type of in-house Christian dispute that should never happen in public (and should really never happen, period), let alone at the Olympics and in the international news media. And wow was I embarrassed for our entire evangelical tribe.
3) Mark Driscoll Condemns Twilight, but for Some Reason Also Seems to Fear Hot Moms Seattle pastor, boor, and evangelical celebrity Mark Driscoll blogged his disdain for the Twilight franchise upon the release of the final film installment in November. While many of his reasons for disliking Twilight appear perfectly defensible, his rant was bizarre enough to immediately earn him a spot in the week’s news. In comparing the franchise’s impact on young women to that of porn on young men (since watching real surgically-altered junkies fornicating in the most degrading ways conceivable is exactly like vampires, werewolves, and a desire for true love), Driscoll was only getting warmed up. The best (and arguably most embarrassing quote) reads, “Tragically, many will be driven by their parents, including some cougar moms encouraging and joining their daughters’ obsession with handsome young males.”
What do cougar moms have to do with it? Why is it noteworthy that they drive? Should mothers dress frumpily and feign loathing of attractive or young males? Do good Christian moms encourage their daughters to pursue only ugly old men? I have no idea, but Rev. Driscoll, you are beyond caricature. And that makes you embarrassing.
2) Mark Sanford Plans to Re-enter Politics You may remember in 2009 when the governor of South Carolina disappeared for about a week. His staff claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, which turned out to be untrue, and slowly it dawned on an incredulous America that the only person on earth who definitely knew the whereabouts of this evangelical governor – Mark Sanford, so we’re clear – was the man himself. It turned out, of course, that he had decided he needed to spend some time with his secret Argentine mistress, so he lied to his wife, lied to his children, lied to his staff, lied to his security detail, lied to the people of South Carolina, left the country, passed a few days – including Father’s Day, on which he remained incommunicado even from his family – with his ‘soul-mate,’ and betrayed more of his professed evangelical convictions in one week than any politician in memory.
Governors are not allowed to go AWOL, and when the truth emerged he had no choice but to resign as perhaps the most disgraced politician of all time. Oh wait, no he didn’t. He shamelessly served out the rest of his term, although the South Carolina House of Representatives censured him, his wife moved out (with the kids) and subsequently divorced him, and those of us with faith in humanity thought we’d heard the last of him.
Of course, those of us with faith in humanity keep thinking we’ve heard the last of Marion Barry too, and it hasn’t been true yet. Sanford announced his engagement to the Argentine mistress in August, and in December it emerged that he plans to run for the United States House of Representatives in 2014. The announcement came with the usual insulting palaver about redemption, forgiveness, and second chances, and while we could spend our time dissecting the manipulative narcissism Sanford displays, I propose we should just agree to be embarrassed, and we can quibble over whether or not he’s truly an evangelical some other time.
1) Syrian Christians Suffer, American Media Notices American Christians Not Caring I’ve observed before that the plight of Syrian Christians is unenviable (to understate it wildly). A related observation, however, is the fact that much of what has been published on the plight of Syrian Christians has been published by the secular media. Particularly noteworthy about these secular reports, however, has been what one can read between the lines in the restrained prose of the big-media writers: they seem confused as to why American Christians haven’t made the plight of Syrian Christians a bigger deal.
I can’t answer that question, but I am willing to bet that your church didn’t pray for Syrian Christians on Sunday, and it probably hasn’t looked into sending relief supplies either. I don’t know why we don’t seem to care about them, but they’re hungry, they’re sick, they’re being dispossessed, they’re dying, and they’re our brothers and sister in Christ. Also, most of us seem more outraged by Mark Sanford than by this ongoing travesty.
Looking ahead to 2013, Lifeway Christian Stores will still be run according to Southern Baptist sensibilities, Mark Driscoll will still be a boor, and Mark Sanford will still be a narcissist. None of those embarrassments are within our control. Our concern about Syria is. The most embarrassing evangelical news story of 2012 is the only one we could ensure doesn’t recur in 2013, but it’ll take some effort. Who’s up for it?