Syrian Christians speak. A group of Syrian religious leaders, including many Christians, sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump. The coalition of Christians, Arabs, and Kurds controls part of northern Syria. They say the unexpected announcement that the United States would withdraw from Syria has “severely undercut” efforts to install a democratic government in the region. In recent years, at least 20,000 Muslims have converted to Christianity. Another 100,000 Christians already live in the area.
Christians at Sundance. The Sundance Film Festival has become one of the most influential culture-shaping festivals in the nation. This year, Christians had a significant presence. In 2005 a small group of Christian college students met there for conversation and fellowship. This year, more than 200 seminary and Christian college students, faculty and others participated in the Windrider Forum, an initiative to highlight the integration of film and faith. Windrider is now an official partner with the festival, and students from more than 20 Christian schools participate.
Michael Jackson’s Legacy. These Christians at Sundance are bearing witness to the role movies play in shaping worldview. Anyone who wants to have an impact on culture must understand the forces shaping culture. Today that means – among other media – music and movies. They give us the stories we tell each other, and they create and topple our heroes. That’s why one of the most important films premiered at Sundance was a new documentary on the life of Michael Jackson called “Leaving Neverland.” The four-hour film, scheduled for HBO in April, focuses on the stories of two men who say Michael Jackson sexually molested them as children. The film got an extended standing ovation at Sundance. Jackson stood trial on child molestation charges in 2005, but was acquitted. Jackson’s estate has denounced the film and the men (now in their 30s and 40s) who made the allegations. However, as WORLD reported, “In the #MeToo era, it is unlikely that the public will readily dismiss the documentary.” Slate reporter Sam Adams called it devastating, writing, “Leaving Neverland is not merely a film about enduring child sexual abuse. It is a film about surviving it, and the decades it can take to reckon with that trauma.” Given the sex abuse scandals in the church – both Protestant and Catholic – the lessons of this movie should be important to Christians, too.
Christian “conversion therapy.” Over many decades, millions of people with unwanted same-sex attraction have been helped by Christian therapists. However, in recent years, LGBTQ activists have attempted to shut down therapists who practice according to Christian principles. For example, in Tampa, Fla., a 2017 city ordinance barred Christian counsellors from practicing what the media often call “conversion therapy” with minors. This week, though, a federal magistrate judge said that ban violates therapists’ free-speech rights under the First Amendment. The case is not over. It must now be upheld by a federal district court. However, Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, which represented the Christian groups in the case, said, in a statement that the ruling “underscores the serious First Amendment violations of laws that dictate what a counselor and client may discuss in the privacy of their counseling session. The government has no business eavesdropping inside the counseling session between a counselor and client.”
Milestones. Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born this week (Feb. 4) in 1906. He died in a Nazi concentration camp at age 39. His last recorded words: “This is the end. For me, the beginning.”