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CULTURE DIGEST: Jim Wallis, Dem’s favorite evangelical?; Rolling Stone rejects TNIV; Ten Commandments coming to TV

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Scrambling to recover lost ground after evangelicals proved their power in the last presidential election, Democrats are now reaching out to someone who has been characterized as a religious and political anomaly: Jim Wallis.

Wallis, founder and editor of the Christian magazine Sojourners, is a registered Democrat but also is an evangelical — an appealing combination for the party left reeling from the effect of values voters who supported President Bush at the polls.

Senate Democrats, at the start of the congressional session, invited Wallis to discuss issues with their 40 members in private. And about 15 House Democrats invited him to talk about minimizing their secular image, according to The New York Times Jan. 17. In addition, Wallis has been tapped to appear opposite James Dobson for evangelical commentary during NBC News’ inauguration coverage.

“He can help us communicate with the rising number of evangelicals in the country, which is right now a Republican constituency,” James P. Manley, a spokesman for Senate minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, told The Times, “but which Wallis argues could easily become part of the Democratic constituency as well.”

The Times noted that Wallis has urged the Democrats to search for middle ground on polarizing topics such as obscenity and abortion and to focus more on what he calls the moral issues of helping the poor, protecting the environment and reducing violence.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told The Times Wallis is “a left-wing evangelical” who is not qualified to instruct Democrats on conservative Christian values.

Wallis often reminds listeners that the Bible contains more than 3,000 references to alleviating poverty, but Land said Wallis has combined the moral issue of eliminating poverty with the practical issue of whether Democratic policies are the best way to accomplish the goal, The Times said.

REPORTER TAKES CLOSER LOOK AT CHRISTIANS — In an opinion piece for the Columbia Journalism Review’s January-February issue, Mark Pinsky shared some lessons he has learned from two decades of covering religion, and his conclusion is favorable to Christians.

Pinsky began reporting on religion for the Los Angeles Times in 1985, though as a Jew he knew little about Sunbelt Christianity, he said. He tried to educate himself by watching televangelists like Robert Schuller and TBN’s Paul Crouch, but in retrospect he acknowledges he should have paid more attention to a then-little-known congregation called Saddleback Church led by Rick Warren for a more accurate picture. Ten years later, Pinsky moved to cover religion for the Orlando Sentinel.

“While evangelicals are part of a varied theological landscape in California, they are the landscape in Florida: Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, charismatic Catholics, and even many mainline Protestants. Suddenly, I found myself in a very different Orange County,” he wrote.

In Florida, Pinsky found that the most helpful part of his education came once he laid down the reporter’s notebook for the day.

“At PTA meetings, at Scouts, in the supermarket checkout line, and in my neighborhood I encountered evangelicals simply as people, rather than as subjects or sources of quotes for my stories,” he wrote.

From daily experience, Pinsky found that evangelicals were no longer caricatures or abstractions, and they are not poor, uneducated buffoons.

“They don’t march in lockstep to what Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or Focus on the Family’s James Dobson tell them, and they hold surprisingly diverse views on many issues,” Pinsky noted. “While making common cause politically, their theological differences range from the subtle to the significant. For evangelicals, religion is not just for Sundays — or Election Day.”

Evangelicals, he concluded, disagree on a variety of issues. But something that unites them is a feeling that they must fight the “pervasive, popular culture they consider to be, for the most part, a toxic mix of loveless sexuality and senseless violence.” And even as a blue-state parent, Pinsky said he agrees with them.

“I may be flattering myself, but over time I think I have developed a relationship of mutual trust and mutual respect with the evangelical community and its leaders,” he wrote. “Of course, that doesn’t mean they’ve given up trying to bring me to Jesus. That’s what evangelicals do, it’s in their spiritual DNA, and I’m okay with that.”

ROLLING STONE REJECTS TNIV AD — As part of its $1 million campaign to interest young adults in reading the Bible, Zondervan purchased ad space in Rolling Stone magazine. But just before an ad was scheduled to run in February, the magazine rejected the ad for the Today’s New International Version Bible, citing an unwritten policy against accepting ads containing religious messages, USA Today said.

Controversy has surrounded the TNIV — billed as a “gender-accurate” Bible — since the release of its New Testament version in 2002. More than 100 evangelicals voiced their opposition to the TNIV, saying its attempt at “gender accuracy” has led to mistranslation of some texts. The complete TNIV is scheduled to arrive in stores in mid-February, though James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources, has said LifeWay stores will not carry the translation.

The ad rejected by Rolling Stone shows a serious young man pondering the problems of modern life, USA Today said. The text says the TNIV is a source for “real truth” in a world of “endless media noise and political spin.”

“The copy is a little more than an ad for the Bible. It’s a religious message that I personally don’t disagree with,” Kent Brownridge, general manager of Rolling Stone’s parent company, told USA Today.

The TNIV ad will be carried in other publications such as The Onion — a weekly satirical magazine — and Modern Bride. Ads also are scheduled for such websites as VH1 and MTV, USA Today reported.

TEN COMMANDMENTS MINISERIES IN THE WORKS — ABC is working on the production of a four-hour miniseries called “The Ten Commandments,” which, according to the Hollywood Reporter Jan. 13, will rely on extensive biblical and historical research for a realistic, truthful presentation of Moses and the exodus.

Robert Halmi Sr., a veteran TV movie producer who is working on the project, said it will not be a remake of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 movie starring Charlton Heston.

“I felt that [the Ten Commandments] is the first written document of law, morality and order for the human race, and we completely ignore it,” Halmi said. “I think it’s time for the younger generation to revisit this biblical tale as they must realize the importance and consequences of the Ten Commandments.”

The miniseries will include elaborate special effects and has a budget estimated at more than $20 million, the Hollywood Reporter said.

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  • Erin Curry