Internal brouhaha at Family Research Council/American Renewal
Friday's Los Angeles Times included an op-ed piece by Richard Lessner, executive director of American Renewal (the lobbying arm of Family Research Council), about Bush and religious conservatives. "Bush owes his victory to born-again and religious conservatives," Lessner wrote. "The question is: Will any of these religious folk be invited to the Bush party? Early indications are not encouraging. ... It appears the religious conservatives have their reward. And that's as much as they're likely to get." In today's Times, Lessner gets chewed out by his boss, Kenneth L. Connor (president of Family Research Council and American Renewal). "[I] write to repudiate the commentary, which was never submitted to me for review or approval," he says in a letter to the editor. "Lessner was correct when he noted that religious conservatives contributed substantially to Bush's electoral victory. He was wrong, however, to castigate Bush for allegedly already abandoning those voters. The reality is that the Bush-Cheney administration is not yet underway. My hopes and expectations are that the new administration will be faithful to pursue the pledges and promises made during the recent campaign. If it does, the Family Research Council and American Renewal will praise it. Where it does not, we will exhort it. Only time will tell how the Bush-Cheney team treats religious conservatives and the issues close to their hearts. So we at American Renewal and the FRC intend to give them timeラand our helpラwithout rushing to judgment."

Congress halts FCC's plan for low-power radio
In an appropriations bill sent to President Clinton, the Republican Congress added a measure essentially thwarting plans by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create hundreds of low-power FM radio stations for educational, religious, and community groups to use. The provision forbids the FCC from removing protections around large FM stationsラexcept in nine markets, where testing of low-power stations may take place. The FCC's plans were opposed by National Religious Broadcasters and other large radio organizations. But it was strongly supported by many churches and other religious organizations, including the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). In fact, Richard Cizik, the NAE's liaison in Washington, D.C., joined representatives of other organizations in thanking Clinton for his support of low-power radio and urging him to fight on.

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More on China's Christmas crackdown
As noted last week in the Christianity Today Weblog, officials in Wenzhou, China, have shut downラeven blown upラscores of churches and other religious buildings. The state-run media have reported that more than 1,500 churches, temples and shrines in the Wenzhou region alone have been closed or destroyed in the last month and a half. The Washington Post offers more details, noting that Wenzhou is one of China's most Christian cities: 10 percent of the residents or more are Christians (though Christians say the percentage is even greater). And the stories are heartbreaking: officials walking into churches, removing crosses, and painting red stars on the entrances. But what really shines through is the determination of the believers. "I don't know what we're going to do for Christmas now," says one church leader. "It's a dangerous time. They say we can't even gather in someone's house, but we'll still do it. We have faith in Jesus." Meanwhile, the Posteditorializes on the crackdown: "'Razing churches before Christmas? I'm incredulous,' a senior U.S. diplomat told reporters at the embassy in Beijing this week. He shouldn't have been so shocked. For more than a year the government of President Jiang Zemin has been engaged in a broad crackdown against religious activity. ... Not to worry, said the U.S. diplomat: The United States will raise these latest outrages in the new round of bilateral human rights discussions promised by Mr. Jiang to President Clinton last month. Of course, that is exactly what Beijing is hoping for. The U.S.-Chinese human rights 'dialogue,' which began in the Bush administration, has failed to produce any measureable change in Chinese behavior. ... Instead of accepting this fig-leaf, the new administration should begin its relationship with Beijing by making clear that it will stand up for the rights of believers."

A guide to Bush and Gore's religious speech
"The two speeches that closed the presidential campaign on Wednesday nightラVice President Al Gore's concession and President-elect George W. Bush's acceptanceラprovided fresh evidence that expressions of personal piety have become embedded in political discourse," writes Gustav Niebuhr in Saturday's New York Times. Gore's speech, he writes, "ventured onto theologically more intriguing terrain."

Michael Medved: Stop beating up Santa!
"Religious believers of nearly every stripe have begun to question our national obsession with Santa Claus," writes film critic Michael Medved, darling of conservative culture warriors across America, in yesterday's USA Today. "Many thoughtful Christians worry that the message of the Christmas holiday suffers serious damage when Santa, rather than Jesus, becomes the center of the celebration." Medved acknowledges that his "own observant Jewish home remains a Santa-free environment, but we teach our three children to respect the old guy as a kindly symbol of the benign Christian culture that surrounds us." Why? "In an increasingly chaotic world, Santa signifies an ordered, moral universe." Even more importantly, he says, "Santa Claus remains a steadfast guardian of what remains of childhood, reminding this increasingly jaded society of the importance of allowing our offspring to flourish for a few blissful years in a separate, sheltered corner of existence." And what could be more Christian than that? Oh yeah. Jesus.

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Jesus is about to come back! I heard it on the news!
In this Advent season, it seems appropriate to note that the state-run television station in Equatorial Guinea is reporting that Jesus' return is imminent. Unfortunately, it takes as its reason for the report the discovery of the imprint of human foot in a tree. While we at Christianity Today eagerly await Christ's return (especially at this time of year), we don't see footprints in trees listed as one of the signs of Christ's return.

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