The late televangelist gets a Hollywood reassessment.
In this third decade of the 21st century, we’ve seen a lot of religious scandals, with Christian leaders abusing their power and position. Too many. Nevertheless, still to this day when you say the words religious scandal—more often than not folks will think of two television personalities of the 1970s and ’80s: Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.
The “Jim and Tammy” show was the basis of what became a massive ministry and theme park in Fort Mill, South Carolina. It was called PTL, an abbreviation that stood both for Praise the Lord and for People That Love. Then came revelations that PTL had been massively and illegally misusing funds, diverting church funds to pay for their extravagant lifestyle and selling more lifetime vacations at the theme park than the theme park could possibly support. At about the same time, The Charlotte Observer also revealed that Jim Bakker had been engaging in extramarital sex and that ministry funds had been used for hush money. The Assemblies of God kicked them out of the denomination. Jim Bakker went to jail.
During Jim’s imprisonment, the couple divorced. Tammy Faye, meanwhile, became a kind of campy celebrity, appearing in a VH1 reality TV show, hosting a syndicated talk show, and becoming a kind of gay icon. In the year 2000, seven years before her death, a documentary came out called The Eyes of Tammy Faye, narrated by drag queen superstar RuPaul.
Last week, a biopic based on that documentary came out with the same title: The Eyes of Tammy Faye. It’s directed by Michael Showalter, stars Jessica Chastain, and is getting a fair bit of buzz for its highly sympathetic portrayal of Tammy Faye as a misunderstood and maligned Christian woman.
Multilevel marketing isn’t a hobby. And its workers need discipleship.
When LuLaRoe leggings showed up in my small community a few years ago, a farmer in our church dubbed them “tight britches.” Colorful and comfortable, the style quickly became de rigueur for women and girls in our area. But the trend took off for a much simpler reason too: network marketing.
Sometimes known as direct or multilevel marketing, network marketing leverages established social circles to sell directly to consumers through local representatives. Companies like LuLaRoe do particularly well in communities that have thick relational networks, which is likely why they flourish in churches, homeschooling co-ops, and mommy groups.
But despite its growing presence (and generating over $40 billion annually), network marketing rarely shows up in evangelical theologies of faith and work. We might address the toll it takes on relationships, how it affects women’s formation, or whether it makes good financial sense, but few of our conversations take multilevel marketing sales seriously as work. And if we don’t, we won’t take the motives, questions, and dilemmas of those involved in this work seriously either.
This was especially clear to me as I viewed the recent Amazon documentary LuLaRich, which chronicles the woes of the aforementioned apparel company. Following a meteoric rise, LuLaRoe became the object of a spate of lawsuits, claiming damages for everything from poorly crafted merchandise to an incentive program that looked a lot like a pyramid scheme. Independent representatives were left with mounting debt, and some even found their relationships and marriages—the very things that had propelled them into the work in the first place—collapsing.
While watching the docuseries, ...
Evangelicals join Anglicans, Catholics, and Presbyterians in restricting campaigning during worship services.
Some churches in Kenya have barred politicians from addressing their congregations, saying campaigning during services disrespects the sanctity of worship.
The national Anglican, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and evangelical churches have all issued bans, as many politicians have begun early stumping for next year’s general elections and as COVID-19 public health measures have restricted how and where campaigning can take place.
The Methodists, however, are keeping the church doors open for all.
Joseph Ntombura, presiding bishop of the Methodist Church in Kenya, has said his church is not dissenting from the effort, but is taking a different approach. The bishop said shutting the doors to politicians would mean discriminating against some of its members.
“The church is for all people,” Ntombura told RNS in a telephone interview. “Human beings are political, so there is nothing wrong with inviting the politicians in church.”
According to the bishop, congregations need to hear the views of politicians on issues of national interest, such as the sharing of resources. In the past, Ntombura said, the church has invited other experts to speak to congregations on important matters, and politicians are no different.
“Some of the politicians are our pastors,” said Ntombura.
Kenya is about 85 percent Christian. About 33 percent of that group are from historic Protestant denominations and about 21 percent are Catholic. The rest belong to evangelical, Pentecostal, and African denominations. Muslims make up 11 percent of the population.
In issuing the bans on politicking in church, denominations have said they feared that church services would become campaign rallies and that candidates would use language ...
For many Hong Kongese, these are bittersweet memories. On the one hand, the series of pro-democratic movements since 2014 show the Hong Kongese’s urge for a better society that goes beyond the capitalistic ethos of the city; on the other, those movements became a Pandora’s box of civil unrest. Two years ago, 2 million people protested against the extradition law in June, and the implementation of the national security law the year after led to mass arrests and a crackdown on democratic parties.
Hong Kong Christians famously took to the streets in prayer and in song as part of the demonstrations. But what international audiences may have not seen is how the political developments in Hong Kong launched the church into the digital public sphere too. Facing tighter religious freedoms, Christian leaders have grown their presence online and on social media.
Even as the Hong Kong diaspora has scattered across the globe, leaders have taken to the digital space as a platform to show solidarity to the persecuted and to instruct followers to persevere through difficult times. The digital public theology they’ve developed over the past seven years has grown into a witness for the global church.
Writing on the Mid-Autumn Festival, the day Hong Kong families tend to reunite (tuan yuan) to see the full moon (yue yuan, a play on words for “reunion”), I think of the persistent prayers for our brothers and sisters are suffering on the other side of the world and our compassion for those who cannot see their families due to exile ...
“I made comments about race, the Black family, and minorities that were wrong and hurt many people.”
Best-selling Christian author and speaker Josh McDowell is stepping back from ministry following comments he made at a recent meeting of the American Association of Christian Counselors.
On Saturday, he had denounced the idea of systemic racism at the national gathering, saying Black Americans and other minorities were not raised to value hard work or education.
The talk, entitled “The Five Greatest Global Epidemics,” identified a series of threats McDowell claims face the Christian church. The first, he said, was critical race theory, an academic field of study on the nature of systemic racism. Known by the acronym CRT, critical race theory has become controversial among Christian conservatives and political conservatives alike.
McDowell told Christian counselors that CRT “negates all the biblical teaching” about racism—because it focuses on systems rather than the sins of the human heart and said today’s definition of “social justice” is not biblical.
“There’s no comparison to what is known today as social justice with what the Bible speaks of as justice,” he said. “With CRT they speak structurally. The Bible speaks individually. Make sure you get that. That’s a big difference.”
He went on to say not all Americans have equal opportunities to succeed.
“They don’t, folks,” he said in his speech. “I do not believe Blacks, African Americans, and many other minorities have equal opportunity. Why? Most of them grew up in families where there is not a big emphasis on education, security—you can do anything you want. You can change the world. If you work hard, you will make it. So many African Americans don’t have ...
Even during a pandemic, we have a duty to anticipate God’s goodness.
The first thing to go was the trip she’d earned to Boston. Then it was her summer internship at the local theater company, followed by the business course she wanted to take for college credit. Eighteen months of disappointments finally spilled over last week as my 17-year-old and I were discussing a potential graduation trip. “Mom,” she interrupted, her voice quavering ever so slightly, “I can’t talk about this. I can’t handle getting excited. It just hurts too much when things get canceled.”
My daughter’s comments reminded me of the pandemic’s collateral damage: the ability to dream, plan, and hope for the future.
As Christians, we believe hope is an important part of our shared faith as well as our personal walk. But Scripture suggests something more radical: Hope is not the privilege of the naturally optimistic; it is the responsibility of all who believe. Hope is the means by which we align not simply our plans but also ourselves with God. It is how we move toward the future he is preparing for us in order to join him there.
Perhaps the most-often quoted (and most misunderstood) passage about looking to the future with hope is Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Christians often interpret this as a blanket promise that “good things are right around the corner.” If we just keep a positive mental outlook, we can know that God has #blessings in store.
But contextually, this promise is given to the Jews recently exiled to Babylon. The faithful remnant had heeded Jeremiah’s warnings to submit to ...
Southern Baptists become first to require vaccines as agencies navigate health requirements and travel restrictions.
COVID-19 vaccine refusal rates may be high among white evangelical Christians, but the International Mission Board—which deploys thousands of missionaries—is not hesitant about the shot.
The global agency of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical Protestant denomination in the US, announced this month it is requiring vaccinations for missionaries they’re sending into the field amid the pandemic.
The IMB may be the first US missionary agency known to have such a mandate, according to leaders in the field, as other faith groups approach the issue in a variety of ways including limiting where people can serve and making considerations for uneven global access to the vaccines.
“This is a very common-sense decision,” said Ed Stetzer, a Southern Baptist who is dean of mission, ministry and leadership at Wheaton College. “Mission-sending agencies from the United States have the real opportunity to be vaccinated, and they’re going to places around the world that don’t.”
The IMB policy applies to both current and future missionaries as well as some staff members. Among the reasons it cited for the measure are health concerns and the fact that increasing numbers of countries are implementing their own vaccine requirements—some field personnel have reported needing to show proof to board airplanes and subways or enter restaurants and malls.
In a statement announcing the policy, IMB leaders acknowledged that it could be a deal-breaker for some people considering missionary work or currently serving with the organization.
Allen Nelson IV, a pastor who leads a Southern Baptist congregation in Arkansas, said he is not against vaccines but is completely opposed to mandates ...
Leaders are still debating whether to hand over privileged materials as survivors and the majority of their own denomination have requested.
Months after the Southern Baptist Convention voted for a third-party investigation into how its Executive Committee responded to abuse allegations, leaders failed to adopt the convention’s terms for the process, deferring to ongoing negotiations between leaders and a sexual abuse task force.
The two-day proceedings in Nashville highlighted growing turmoil in the nation’s largest Protestant body and disappointed victims who had held out hope the convention would adopt a thorough outside review to address its missteps.
Still up for debate is whether the Executive Committee (EC) will comply with the convention’s directive to waive attorney-client privilege to allow investigators to obtain relevant documents from EC members and staff.
The majority of the EC voted against doing so, with several citing the “fiduciary duty” to protect the entity and the denomination as a whole.
“We grieve yesterday’s vote by the Executive Committee, who in unprecedented fashion prohibited the will of the messengers for an open and transparent investigation,” a dozen EC members—including Jared Wellman, an outspoken advocate for victims, and Rolland Slade, the EC chairman—said in a statement. “It is our opinion that the failed vote only justifies the need for an open investigation.”
After consulting with additional legal counsel who reportedly advised against waiving privilege, the EC voted to take another week to negotiate on access to privileged information. However, the group also agreed to fully fund the upcoming investigation up to $1.6 million.
“Not a win, but a step,” tweeted Florida pastor and EC member Dean Inserra, who was among the minority of EC leaders who ...
What pop culture gets wrong about charismatic women, and what “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” gets right.
In 1998, just over a decade after the scandal that landed Tammy Faye Bakker’s husband, Jim, in prison and crashed the couple’s ministry empire, Tammy Faye was a guest on Roseanne Barr’s daytime show. Roseanne’s opening line of questions quickly turned obnoxious, even cruel: “I want to know what in the heck is the makeup a metaphor for? What does it really mean? Because you know it’s really extreme.”
Tammy Faye, obviously stung, tried to deflect the insult. Roseanne persisted: “No, your makeup is extreme. It’s very extreme. … What does it mean to you? … Are you protecting yourself? You’re putting so much stuff on your face; you’re, like, hiding.”
Michael Showalter’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Searchlight, 2021), a film based on Fenton Bailey’s and Randy Barbato’s 2000 documentary of the same name, is no less interested in what her “look” meant and means. Jessica Chastain’s performance, however, affords Tammy Faye a dignity Roseanne’s interview did not. Hopefully, this difference signals a long-needed shift in how Pentecostals—and Pentecostal women, in particular—are represented in mass media and popular culture.
Broadly speaking, Pentecostals found Tammy Faye’s look especially troubling and dismissed her as a “cruisematic” clown, while evangelicals feared her willingness to engage with gay people and her sympathy for those dying with AIDS. The culture at large, insofar as it noticed her at all, laughed her off as a tongue-talking, Bible-thumping pseudocelebrity.
When I was young (I’m the same age as Jay, Tammy Faye’s son), reared by my parents and grandparents in ...
Once a hub for Reformed thought and a waystation for immigrants, a New York City congregation finds itself at the center of a property dispute.
Queens Christian Reformed Church—one of the first Chinese American churches in the Reformed tradition established in the United States—is waiting with bated breath to find out what the future holds.
Some are worried the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) is going to evict the congregation and sell the Briarwood, Queens, property to developers—in the process erasing an important part of Chinese American church history in New York City.
Others say they don’t know what will happen to Queens Christian Reformed Church (QCRC), but they hope there is a way the denomination and the congregation can come together to support continued ministry to Chinese Americans and other Christians in Queens who want to worship in the Reformed tradition.
“Our future is always in God’s hands,” said David Lowe, who has served as an elder at the church since 1984, “and we want to put our hope and trust in him in all things.”
Classis Hudson, the regional governing body of the CRCNA, will vote on Tuesday on whether to authorize an interim committee to figure out the future of the congregation. The Queens church officially has only 27 members, according to the denomination’s website, and no full-time CRC pastor. The church’s founder, Paul C. H. Szto, led the church until he died in 2019 at the age of 95.
According to the denomination, the church does not have a functioning church council, complicating the congregation’s role in determining its future. A council is required by CRCNA bylaws to facilitate a congregation’s exit from the denomination.
There are other complications as well. In an official statement to CT, the denomination described the situation as “extremely ...
American democracy and democratized Christianity face a similar crisis of disunity.
Several years ago, my eyes stopped on a two-panel cartoon that made me both laugh and grimace. The first had a typical Jordan River scene of a familiar bearded figure in camel’s hair dipping someone under the water, with the caption “John the Baptist.” The second depicted a similar scene, but the penitent was held under the water, thrashing about for life, while bubbles indicated drowning. That one was captioned “John the Southern Baptist.”
Once upon a time, the old cartoon could have prompted smugness in Christians of other denominations, but not anymore. In one respect, we are all Southern Baptists now.
Years ago, historian Martin Marty spoke of the “Baptistification” of American religion—by which he meant that the individualistic creedalism, the entrepreneurial drive, and the voluntary-society model of the church were so consistent with the American ethos that almost every Christian communion—regardless of polity or theology—was starting to reflect it.
For Baptists, this would seem consistent with the talking point for generations that the sort of polity practiced in Baptist churches was the model for the kind of democracy to which America aspired.
Increasingly, though, American democracy is starting to look more and more like a Baptist congregational business meeting. The theory of “the priesthood of the believer” and every voice counting is giving way to the darker reality of knife fights, splits between factions, and the social Darwinism of the way the meanest and most aggressive people can dictate the terms of debate. Whether those fights are over the color of the carpet in the vestibule or how to end a global pandemic, the so-called elites are in ...