It was against the law-aw
Sometimes reading the religious news is like reading the police blotter.
• “New York closes struggling Olivet University campus“, Christianity today reports.
It’s the kind of story you need a bulletin board, thumbtacks, and lots of red string to follow. It’s about money laundering allegations – a crime that involves difficult-to-follow labyrinthine layers deliberately designed to confuse anyone outside of the scheme. And it’s a convoluted institution – a former Bible college now transformed into a multi-campus “university” that also includes a real estate development company and a handful of other businesses.
Then there is the name: “Olivet”. It’s also the name of two completely unrelated schools, neither of which recently paid a $125 million fine after pleading guilty to fraud charges. Olivet is also the name of a church – a fully intertwined and intertwined entity led by a man named David Jang who, among other things, proclaimed himself to be the messiah. (Again, to be clear, neither Olivet College in Michigan nor Olivet Nazarene in Illinois has ever suggested that David Jang is the messiah. And, unlike Grove City College, neither of these schools has ever suggested that Tucker Carlson is the messiah either.)
Olivet the idiosyncratic church and Olivet the Bible college-turned-“university” are also tangled with several people now or recently involved in Zombie. Newsweek, the platform desecrating the corpse of the now defunct and once respectable weekly. Zombie Newsweek occasionally still does actual journalism, but it’s presented with a hodgepodge of something really not that, including lots of outrageous clickbait nonsense, propaganda and stuff that’s probably influenced by Olivet d’ a way that does not easily fit a left-right political spectrum. It has spastic flashes of believability, but now generally sits closer to the period time end only at the Christian Science Monitor end of the spectrum of credibility for publications produced by minority religious groups.
So I don’t know what to make of this report from ZN’s Naveed Jamali,”New York shuts down Olivet University amid federal money laundering probe.” Most of Jamali’s reporting seems to parallel the facts presented in this CT article, and he works hard to be upfront and clear about the links between the Olivet church/university and his patrons at ZN. I’m not sure he’s successful in clarifying this because, again, this seems like a story that defies clarification. But Belz and Jamali and the federal prosecutors all seem to agree on one thing: he looks shady that all come out.
• I wrote the bit above before reading this RNS report: “Newsweek is suing former owners, controversial pastor David Jang, seeking millions.” Now I’m gonna need one bigger bulletin board and even more thumbtacks and thread:
IBT bought Newsweek in 2013, after a failed restart, the company ended print publication. The sale was controversial at the time due to IBT’s ties to Jang, who founded Olivet University, a small Christian school in San Francisco, in the early 2000s. Originally from Korea, Jang previously worked for a seminary run by the Unification Church, according to Christianity today. He and his followers also founded the Christian Post, among other media properties.
The complaint alleging that IBT, owned by Etienne Uzac and Johnathan Davis, is part of a network of organizations and businesses associated with a religious group, known as “the Community”, which is overseen by Jang.
These different companies all have close relationships. Tracy Davis, dean and former president of Olivet University, is married to Johnathan Davis, CEO of IBT Media and co-owner of Newsweek. William Anderson, the former publisher of The Christian Post, served on the board of Olivet.
Then the radical priest came to set us free
And we’re all here to cover Newsweek…
(For all I know, none of these entities are related to anyone who now owns Patheos.)
• Here is another piece of Christianity today: “Lawsuit alleges billionaire’s Christian foundation engaged in personal dealings.” And now I think Tim Dalrymple might want to hire a full-time white-collar reporter just to get poor Emily Belz back to the kind of religious reporting that doesn’t require a spreadsheet and a team of forensic accountants.
Joe Shazar at Dealbreaker is more accustomed to beating the beat of financial shenanigans, and here is his article on the (alleged) crimes of this gazillion speculator:At least Bill Hwang saved souls.” Subhed: “Because pretty much all of his former employees left without their deferred compensation.”
The new lawsuit against Hwang includes accusations of personal dealings through his supposedly separate ‘Grace and Mercy’ charitable foundation, which the billionaire allegedly used as a rainy day fund to protect personal assets he would otherwise risk to lose due to high-stakes speculation and/or lawsuits and criminal prosecutions. This foundation gave about 5% of its assets as actual charity – mostly to white evangelical ministries. That, and Hwang’s personal gospel faith, is why this story deserves to be published. CT.
This is also why this story links to other stories, or even to One Really Big Story, which Christianity today must cover somewhere on the line. “Grace and Mercy” was a big giver to Christian ministries upon receiving his charity, but that seems to have been a fig leaf for what he (allegedly) did with most of his money and power, which was used (allegedly) in the service of some rather anti-charitable purpose. Could the same be true of the other big donors that white evangelical institutions have come to rely on? (Fake sneeze: DeVos.) Would it be true of more of them? Or maybe even everything of them?
• Corey McNellis is also headed to court, but he is not charged with any financial crime. No, this former white evangelical assistant director is going to court because he’s a clueless asshole: “Fired after opposing ‘Project Laramie’, school staff member sues.”
A former vice principal at a Colorado high school has sued the district, saying he was fired because he expressed his “Christian belief” by opposing the staging of “The Laramie Project.”
Corey McNellis lost his job at Ponderosa High School in Parker after sending emails in October 2020 about the planned production of the play, which deals with the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was beaten and tortured in Laramie, Wyo.
In a federal lawsuit filed Friday, McNellis, who was also the school’s athletic director, claims the Douglas County School District fired him because of his “Christian belief and because he expressed his opinions , which are protected by the First Amendment”.
McNellis spoke out against the production because he was concerned about “how the Christian religion appears in the play”, said his attorney Spencer Kontnik.
“The Laramie Project” was created by a team of writers and actors who traveled to Wyoming to interview local residents about the murder. The play is an “examination of Matt Shepard’s community’s immediate reactions to murder and the underlying bigotry and hatred that enabled it,” according to the Tectonic Theater Project.
The most defensible explanation here would be that McNellis never saw or read the play. This would explain his otherwise preposterous claim that he could possibly be considered to present a single, uniform representation of “the Christian religion”.
Consider, for example, the scene in which despicable Christian pastor Fred Phelps and the handful of his kin who make up his “Westboro Baptist Church” show up to heckle outside Matthew Shepard’s funeral. These funerals took place in a Christian church and were presided over by a Christian minister. He was followed by hundreds of people, most of whom were also Christians. So what does this scene show us about “the Christian religion”?
McNellis’ empty-handed objections could mean he’s upset that Phelps and his crew were included at all – even though this is text-based theatre, and hateful Christians need to be in this scene because they were really there. But if we follow its logic – this play gives a bad image of “the Christian religion” because it makes Fred Phelps look bad – so we realize that Phelps is the one McNellis most closely identifies with here. And that would mean that his protests about the play supposedly attacking “the Christian religion” are based on his objection to the myriad Christians the play features who are not hateful and litigious assholes.
McNellis is suing the school district, claiming he was fired due to religious persecution of white Christians. (Perhaps he was, in fact, the only white Christian working for that school district and that no other white Christian may be employed there. But I rather doubt that this is the case.) It seems doubtful because, as Robyn Pennacchia writes to Wonkette“It seems highly unlikely that he was fired simply for expressing his Christian beliefs, since as far as we know it is not really against the Christian religion for Christians to be directly quoted in a play, or elsewhere.”
But given that we have an Anything Goes Supreme Court majority now arguing that the Establishment Clause violates the Free Exercise Clause for white Christians, McNellis’ dubious argument might prevail. The school district may not only be forced to rehire him, but turn him over to future theater productions so that next year’s fall production of Ponderosa High will be a Hell House Halloween.
This play still brings me to tears, not only because of the awful sadness of the tragedy at its center, but because of the beautiful words and thoughts it contains, and the realization that these are not the carefully scripted work of artists and playwrights, but simply the improvised and spontaneous expressions of ordinary people captured on tape. “There is more to admire in us than to despise.”
• The title of this article comes from Rhymin’ Simon:
This video has some weird (John Madden?) moments, and I can’t understand why switch-banging Mickey Mantle chooses to go left vs left vs Simon, but the thing here with the kids on the playground is just awesome.
Paul Simon has always been obtuse about what “mum saw” that was “against the law”. But he has been against the law when he wrote that song in 1971. And the unelected and irresponsible judicial coup in the Robber’s Court is determined to make it against the law again.
Oh, and also, since we mentioned it above, please take a moment to remember that Fred Phelps is now totally and completely dead. Like, really really dead. As dead as Haman. We have a duty to celebrate this.