Thinking Out Loud

April 11, 2019

In the Early Days of Merge Tags

Filed under: Christianity, Humor — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:52 am

Merge tags are common now, but there was a time when it was new technology. Imagine gathering the staff in the mail room and pointing out how key paragraphs of the latest fundraiser were personalized for each individual. 

Then there was Cobb’s Chicken Take Out. Someone keyed in their donation to The Old Time Gospel Hour under the name, “Chicken Take O. Cobbs.” And why not? The last name needs to be last, right?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this classic letter from the computerized fundraising department of Jerry Falwell’s television ministry lately because letters with merge tags have the same lack of authenticity now as they had then. The technology wasn’t all that complex and never needed much advancement, and the application science never improved.

Years ago, blogger and rabid U2 afficiando Dave Wainscott at the blog Holy Heteroclite was kind enough to post it to the internet for all to read (or, at least, the first page of it, as reproduced by the Witternburg Door at the time):

If anybody knows the whereabouts online of the complete letter in a text format, I’ll substitute it for the image.

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June 2, 2018

Weekend Link List

Happy Saturday. And Sunday. Again, some things you may or may not have seen elsewhere.

  • If your church ever had Koinonia Groups, you would certainly know how to spell the word, right? For Karthik Nemmani, described as “a soft-spoken eighth-grader from McKinney, Texas,” the word was worth $40,000 in the Scripps Spelling Bee.
  • God Chose Donald Trump: The Movie  “Liberty University students and faculty are making The Trump Prophecy. Students at Jerry Falwell’s evangelical Liberty University are helping produce a film that argues Trump’s presidency was divinely foretold.
  • Traditionally, God’s people prayed to… well… God. So in the Christian era, when did prayer to Jesus originate? “…[I]n early Christian baptism, one called upon Jesus, invoking him over the baptized person. Indeed, in 1 Cor. 1:2 Paul refers to fellow believers simply as those who everywhere ‘call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Perhaps our earliest reference, however, is 1 Thess. 3:11-13, where God and Jesus are jointly called upon to enable Paul to re-visit the Thessalonian church.”
  • Tony Campolo’s issues with modern worship include the question of tense “I think it’s wonderful that it’s captured the music that young people can relate to and they get into it with great love and emotion. But compare ‘My God reigns’ with the old hymns which say: ‘Jesus shall reign’ – it’s future tense, not present tense… The Hallelujah Chorus never says: ‘God is in control’. It says: ‘The kingdoms of this world will (when the second coming occurs) become the kingdoms of our God and he shall reign forever and ever hallelujah’.”
  • A candidate for President of the Southern Baptist Convention offers a four-part strategy for revitalizing the denomination. One of those is planting new churches; “…[W]e must continue to plant churches of every style and variety in every context possible. In 2016 we recorded the lowest number of churches added to our convention since 1988—732 new church starts and 232 new affiliates for a total of 964. It is not a matter of church planting or revitalization but a matter of both/and.
  • Mixed Message: An article on how the brothers can encourage the sisters in ministry is nonetheless set in a complementarian mindset. I mean, I applaud the effort, but it doesn’t really change anything
  • Finally, it’s apparent that Kevin Sorbo has a lock on Christian film casting assignments. He’s due to appear in The Pastor at some point this year. “In a forgotten part of town, overrun by a ruthless gang; a community struggles with its faith, as they see their neighborhoods torn-apart and their youth targeted for gang recruitment.”

May 2, 2014

Glenn Beck @ Liberty U.: Another Perspective

Much has already been written about the decision by Liberty University, the institution founded by Baptist Jerry Falwell, to invite Mormon talk-show host Glenn Beck to be the speaker at its April 25th Convocation. The thrice-weekly events are described as the “largest weekly student gathering in North America” (I think I’ve got that verbatim) and include top Christian authors and pastors, but sometimes civic leaders as well.

You can watch the entire lecture here.

The hinge on which all the discussion turns is whether or not Mormonism can be considered a branch of Christianity, a marginal group, or an outright false cult. Most Evangelicals would place the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) outside the Christian camp.

James Duncan of the blog Pajama Pages goes to great lengths to demonstrate the central doctrinal differences, and also documents that the University, clearly knowing they had a potential tempest ready to boil, informed students that they would receive a $10 fine if they failed to attend, something that university apparently has the power to do.

Liberty-University-ConvocationI am in agreement with what Duncan is reporting, but want to point out that I was recently told by a University representative1 that in order to keep its accreditation, Liberty could not continue to have “Chapel” three times a week, so they came up with “Convocation,” a slightly different use of the term than the one with which some of us are familiar. The concept is that a variety of speakers are introduced thereby avoiding any backlash that the meetings constitute a campus church service.

Had Beck stuck to political analysis common to outside speakers, we wouldn’t be having this discussion; but instead he went a different route, presenting a faith message that was sermon-like in style.

Had the university presented a number of Convocations as part of a series on comparative religion, we wouldn’t be discussing this either, but that wasn’t the case, there was both tacit and overt endorsement, especially by making the lecture more than mandatory.

My greater concern is that this was one of the final Convocations of the year; it’s Beck’s Christian college graduation-styled speech that will stick with students.

I am sure that with Beck’s busy schedule, getting a speaker of his caliber was probably considered a coup by the administration, and perhaps the pivotal end-of-April date was all that was available. But for me, the sermon seemed somewhat lacking and perhaps even a bit awkward. There was Beck, reminding the audience occasionally that he comes from a different denomination, but trying to affirm is Evangelical compatibility through his belief in the atoning work of Christ on the cross.

But he spoke of the Grand Councils, Mormon terminology, and used other words which meant one thing to LDS followers but would be heard differently in Falwell’s Baptist backyard.

Despite the passion and skilled rhetoric, the message just rang hollow.

Were I a student there, I think I would have said, “Who do I make the $10 check out to?”


1 Liberty recruiter with a display at a spring event.

January 17, 2010

Falwell’s Classic “Dear Chicken” Letter

Filed under: Humor — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:57 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this classic letter from the computerized fundraising department of Jerry Falwell’s television ministry.

Thankfully, blogger and rabid U2 afficiando Dave Wainscott at the blog Holy Heteroclite (a recommended bookmark for you) was kind enough to post it to the internet for all to read (or, at least, the first page of it):

If anybody knows the whereabouts online of the complete letter in a text format, I’ll substitute it for the image.

April 13, 2009

Unlikely Disciple: Kevin Roose Embeds Himself at Liberty University

He may consider himself an unlikely disciple, but as Kevin Roose finds out after a semester at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, he’s hardly atypical when it comes to doubt, lifestyle or even worldview.     Apparently, the 21st Century version of LU has a student body composition that while different in some respects, in others appears to be a microcosm of the larger college and university universe.

unlikely-discpleKevin, a journalism student at Brown University — where they spell “Liberal arts” with a capital ‘L’ — notices the whole “study abroad” opportunity to spend a term immersed in a different culture and decides that the American fundamentalist culture is just as interesting, plus he doesn’t need a passport.

Unlike books like Rapture Ready and Righteous, this book isn’t the result of hours of research conducted from the safety of the authors home turf, albeit with a few field trips added.    No, this is the field trip of the decade, involving total immersion, total focus and commitment, and shrouded in total secrecy.   Only his off campus, pre-Liberty contacts know what he’s up to, and they’re concerned he’s going to undergo a conversion before the semester ends.

Which brings me to:  This is a book with an actual plot; as in ‘a beginning, a middle and an ending.’   It’s investigative, yes; but it’s also autobiographical as the author tells the story subjectively and transparently.    It’s the story that every secular journalist who ever covered the late Jerry Falwell, or Liberty University, or Thomas Road Baptist Church simply never got.   It’s the story you can only get by being there.

Some Christian bookstores chains are carrying this title and some aren’t.  (No, Lifeway isn’t; not even with a “Read With Discernment” warning.)   That’s probably fair.   The language is a bit edgy at time, but in general, it tells the story in an honest and balanced manner.

Whether or not a high school student considering Liberty University should read this is another question.    It could either raise social expectations for the teenager who is going to a Christian college somewhat against their will; or lower spiritual expectations for the prospective student who believes that dorm life at a Christian college is going to be life transforming.   Ditto the possible consequences should the parents read it.

For the rest of us, who don’t have an emotional stake in this issue, I would say that this particular title comes really close to a ‘must-read.’    Why?   Because this is probably as accurate a portrayal of Christian college life as any you will ever read, written by someone who had no previous history, and no particular axe to grind.

He did however have some preconceived ideas.    Watching those tweak, morph, or just plain get deleted is what makes the book so engaging.    As Kevin Roose himself might say after reading Unlikely Disciple, “Hey, Kevin; I’m praying for ya.”

Kevin Roose – Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University; Grand Central Publishing; hardcover; March 2009

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