A bitter-sweet goodbye to the Liberty Champion

Photo by Leah Seavers
Photo by Leah Seavers

Original post available at the Liberty Champion website.

In just two years, I discovered my passion — writing. A passion I find somewhat ironic, since growing up I always hated reading, and writing always seemed to be a cumbersome speed bump between any completed class and me.

Now, sitting at my laptop, at the end of my time as opinion editor at the Liberty Champion, I can say God was onto something when he led me to drop political science and become a journalism major.

Journalism is an industry unlike any other field. In just one year at the Champion, I wrote editorials on issues ranging from politics and culture to faith and religion. Though I just scratched the surface of many of the issues I covered, I felt honored to be the conversation starter. Is that not who we are as editorialists?

“When everyone zigs, find a way to zag,” Jonathan Merritt, an editorialist and Liberty graduate, once told me.

Being a conversation starter, you often find yourself in the hot seat — but I have been OK with that. As a writer, my goal has never been to fully convert any reader to my way of thinking. I believe if I bring even one person to the table, willing to engage, maybe for the first time, then I have done my job.

Those moments of vulnerability sometimes gave way to moments of consideration and learning. After all, I am nothing more than a life-long learner. The only difference between journalists and the rest of the world is we bear out our learning — though sometimes cluttered and confused — for all to read.

In time, “Let’s talk,” became a phrase I was familiar with hearing or seeing. For a few of my more controversial articles, I found those two words scribbled across the top in Professor Huff’s purple ink.

Those “Let’s talk” conversations always yielded refined writing and more seasoned thinking. In time, I came to enjoy those moments. And today, I can tell you I will undoubtedly miss all of our talks and day-to-day conversations.

I have learned so much as a writer, and Professor Huff played no small part in preparing me for this field. It has been a privilege and honor to sit under her teaching, guidance and wisdom.

This year has been a season of firsts for me. I have had the fortune of having my work published in FoxNation, the Washington Post and the Religion News Service. And my writing has been cited on MSNBC and in the New York Times.

In addition to the many professors to whom I owe gratitude, there are a few people outside my Liberty family who have played a part in molding and shaping me as a journalist. I will probably thank those people on Twitter.

All in all, I look back at this past year feeling blessed and proud to have had the opportunity to serve those around me and to work with such an immensely talented team of writers, editors and designers.

My passion is most assuredly writing, and I look forward to continuing conversations and starting new discussions in the years to come. The beauty of this world is that not all issues come with black and white answers.

We live somewhere in the gray scale, blessed with the opportunity to navigate it together. And, as a writer, who happens to be Christian, I have the privilege of wading into those gray areas, equipped with my faith, ready and willing to start the discussion.


Biblical Personhood: God, mother and father

Biblical Personhood banner

Dancing around in the corridors of my mind, much the way a ping-pong ball ricochets back and forth in a heated match, I was contemplating biblical manhood versus womanhood.

It was not long before I came to a standstill. I do not believe we can adequately discuss genuine manhood and womanhood unless we first define biblical personhood. After all, God possesses both masculine and feminine characteristics and the gospel reaches men and women alike.

If you peruse scripture, you find God taking on more than just the role of a father. You see that he is mother, as well. This is not to say that he is nondescript, neither male nor female. Rather, God is both. In his perfection, he is able to meet humanity where and how it must be met.

In Genesis, it is written that God created both male and female in his image and bearing his likeness.

In Psalm 22:8-10, we read of God as midwife — “You brought me safely from my mother’s womb. … I was thrust into your arms at my birth.”

And earlier, we read of God’s maternal nature. In Numbers 11:12, it is written that Moses pleads with God, asking him, “Why did you tell me to carry them in my arms like a mother carries a nursing baby?”

“If we are humble, we know that human words and metaphors are incomplete and can never do justice to describing the majesty of who God is,” Yolanda Pierce, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, wrote in a Time editorial.

Furthermore, though Christ was a man on earth, it was his femininity that set him apart. His delicacy in approaching the woman at the well and his grace in forgiving the adulterous woman set him apart from the violent and aggressive Roman culture into which he was thrust.

By that same token, we read of Christ’s righteous anger when he overturned the tables in the temple and drove out the thieves and the moneychangers (Matthew 21:12). Then in Revelation 6:2, it is written that Christ will return, “to win many battles and gain the victory.”

Like a diamond against a black backdrop, Jesus’ personhood captured the curiosities of those he encountered, never quite fitting the mold of established norms.

“This is the man who chose poverty, who relied on others for support, who ministered to the least of these in society,” Nate Pyle, lead pastor at Christ’s Community Church in Indiana, said of biblical manhood. “(Jesus) didn’t exactly fit the Greco-Roman idea of masculinity.”

God — and Christ, his manifest presence — operates outside of the cultural binary we have come to accept. Much like God is separate from time and space, he is uninfluenced by our finite understanding of femininity and masculinity.

Set apart to be in the world, fully immersed in culture, those who call themselves Christians must be equipped to carry the gospel in various directions, understanding that neither full masculinity nor full femininity is capable of meeting every need.

The answer, like in most things, lies somewhere in between.

“I wonder sometimes if our strong emphasis is on, ‘This is what it means to be a man,’ and ‘This is what it means to be a woman,’ rather than, ‘This is what it means to be a well-integrated person,” Micah J. Murray, a religious commentator, told Relevant magazine.

Much of what we believe to be biblical “manhood” and “womanhood” is, in reality, nothing more than American cultural identities that have been woven into our theologies.

In exploring the Bible, I think it is of paramount importance for the Church to dampen the cultural cacophony of ideas bombarding our thinking, and analyze scripture for what it is, realizing that Christlikeness is so much bolder and more vibrant than personality traits and characteristics.

I am thankful for that standstill in my mind — when I stopped analyzing biblical manhood and womanhood and discovered that, when I walk in the fullness of who God made me to be, I am called to be like Christ.

Biblical personhood is feminine and masculine, full of gentle conviction, bold grace, unwavering commitment, conquering love, fortified faith and the realization that I am totally weak and incapable of claiming any of these things apart from the strength I find in salvation.

“What’s Next?” Series: Repost of my interview with Dr. Karen Swallow Prior


Who is Hannah More?

That is the question Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, prolific writer and English professor at Liberty University, sought to answer in her new book, “Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist.”

In the more than 200 years since the end of the British slave trade, William Wilberforce’s name has become synonymous with the abolition movement — and for good reason. But what about the people behind Wilberforce? What — and who — was it that made abolition possible?

In the book, Prior answers those questions in an engaging way. It was when she was searching for a topic for her doctoral dissertation that the English professor stumbled upon More and immediately knew she had found her topic.

“I had never heard of her, (but) as soon as I read about her, … I knew she was the one that I needed to write about,” Prior said. “I always had in mind that I wanted to write a popular biography of her, and so, 15 years later, here it is.”

More was a member of the “Clapham Sect,” a group of inspired evangelicals, of which Wilberforce was a part. The group was dedicated to social reformation — abolition being chief among their causes.

As the title suggests, More was a Renaissance woman. In her role as poet, reformer and abolitionist, More played her part as a teacher, a playwright, an activist and so much more. In all of her roles, she sought to eradicate the society of the damaging norms with which she grew up, never allowing cultural influence to water down her convictions.

“Of course, her role was less public because she was a woman,” Prior said of why More is not as well-known today. “She was very well-known in her day, so I think her peers would have been surprised to learn that she (was) sort of forgotten in history.”

Previously known only to a small collection of historians and scholars, Prior puts More center stage, and, with the praise of several leading voices within the Evangelical movement, I think she is here to stay.

“As someone who is a committed, conservative evangelical with strong convictions about theology and doctrine and cultural issues, I see in Hannah More an example of a person who can hold those convictions and who can reach across various cultural and theological divides,” Prior said. “But I also see someone who had weaknesses. … So to me, she is a human, fallible, yet exemplary, figure … I want to emulate the strengths that she showed, the victories that she had in bridging divides.”

In today’s Evangelical society, we have moved backward from the place More was so many years ago. In More’s day, her theology cast a wide net, holding fast to convictions on animal welfare, poverty, slavery and education, differing from today’s activist culture in which we often cast a very narrow net, focusing on one particular issue, remaining blind to the implications of our limited interests.

“(More and her fellow evangelicals) were not single-issue Christians,” Prior said. “There were so many issues facing them in their time, and they championed so many causes with the same passion and fervor that many of us champion single causes. That’s something that we in the conservative evangelical pocket of society can learn from.”

More was passionate about the necessity that all people have access to society and education. Hand-in-hand with her convictions against slavery, she held deep convictions for gender equality, too.

Prior, excited about the timely release of the book, described the current Evangelical climate as “ripe” for change in perspective. There are many great examples of leaders within Christianity.

However, very few of them are women. Prior described More as someone who most likely held very conservative views of gender roles — more conservative than most today — yet was still an effective leader, using her “God-given gifts fully to his glory.”

The book has garnered the endorsements of several leading men and women within Christendom who represent a wide spectrum of beliefs on women’s roles in the Church. Prior credits Hannah More as being a catalyst for bridging some of those divides.

During the writing process, Prior journeyed to Bristol, England, More’s homeland, and described streets, schools, nursing homes and the cottage where she taught Sunday school that are now named after the abolitionist. With the release of “Fierce Convictions,” Prior wants to stretch More’s legacy past those schools and streets in Bristol, bringing her to the crossroads of Christianity, in hopes of igniting a renewed unity within Evangelical society.

“I hope that people find a very human, but admirable example of a woman who was able to overcome a number of limitations and social and cultural challenges and make a huge difference in her world,” Prior said of her hopes for the book. “We are all in that place. We are all in a certain culture, in a certain time, with challenges, with limitations, and yet God gives us gifts and opportunities to overcome them, and I think (More is) a great example of that.”

In the spirit of More, I encourage everyone to pick up a copy of “Fierce Convictions,” ready to be challenged and inspired by the life and works of one of the world’s most extraordinary poets, reformers and abolitionists.

Propel Women: What’s next?

Photo credit: Liberty University's Marketing Department
Photo credit: Liberty University’s Marketing Department

Since the launch of Propel Women here at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, this week, the campus has been abuzz with a flurry of questions, debates and discussion, filling the academic and residential hallways alike, beginning a conversation that is days, months, years, decades — and even centuries — overdue.

So, what’s next?

We have been left with a great challenge from ministers of all walks of life. From Arizona pastor Terry Crist to Texas author and speaker Beth Moore to Australian evangelist Christine Caine, there has been no shortage of biblical wisdom shared amongst the student body.

So, again, I ask, what’s next?

Now is the time to step into living out this new information. And, for those who were not at Liberty to hear what this week has been all about, you can get a great overview of the movement by reading Dr. Karen Swallow Prior’s article here and visiting the Propel Women website here.

Stepping into this next phase can often be cumbersome, chaotic and easily overwhelming — no matter the topic. Regardless of the awkwardness of charting new waters, it is critical that we not become combative. From here, the discussion transitions into the atriums, fellowship halls, sanctuaries and coffee shops of churches all across the United States.

This is a humble and bold movement. Humble because Christ is the very flesh and bones of God’s humility and bold because Christ is the furious display of God’s bold grace and his unmoving commitment to the gospel — “So God created human beings, in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:27, NLT)”

Now, in humility, I think it is time to start the discussion of what that means — he created them, male and female. Because of our American Christian culture, men are often positioned in places of authority and it is the men in those positions who have the responsibility to initiate that conversation.

Liberty University is made up of 59 percent female, according to U.S. News & World Report. And 53 percent of the evangelical church in the United States is women, according to Pew Research. The Church needs to prove its relevance not by creating new initiatives for the purpose of proving itself. Christ has already proven the gospel; we just need to live it out, including all people.

Propel Women is jump-starting that conversation and now we are moving forward into living it out.

In the coming weeks, I will be playing my part in that discussion. I will be interviewing several female Christians who are influencing and shaping millennial culture in a series to be published with the Liberty Champion, Liberty University’s student-run newspaper.

Christine Caine and her hard-working team have handed us the baton. Now, we must take it and run. That’s what’s next.

Editorial: Obama snubs Israeli leader

Untitled-61I guess I should laugh to keep from crying.

Yemen’s U.S.-backed government, touted by President Barack Obama as a model for dealing with al Qaeda and the Middle East, according the MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, crumbled overnight last week.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah died Friday, Jan. 23, leaving the friendship between the Arab nation and the United States hanging in the balance.

To make matters worse, these two developments have eliminated major obstacles for Iran in its endeavor to rework the political makeup of the embattled region.

So what does Obama do? He says “no” to meeting with the West’s only constant and committed ally — Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel.

Like I said, I guess I should laugh to keep from crying.

The two leaders have a history of not getting along. In fact, an unnamed White House official was quoted by the Atlantic calling Netanyahu a (vulgarity).
Classy, right?

This go-’round, another unnamed senior official has voiced disapproval of Netanyahu’s decision to address the joint session of Congress in March at House Speaker John Boehner’s request without White House approval.

“He spat in our face publicly, and that’s no way to behave,” the anonymous source said of the prime minister’s visit.

“Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency and that there will be a price.”

According to White House spokesperson Bernadette Meehan, the only reason Obama turned down a meeting with Netanyahu is because the U.S. has a “long-standing practice and principle” of not meeting with heads of state during their election seasons.

Really? That is the best they can come up with?

Of course, I suppose I cannot blame the president for avoiding Netanyahu after his promise in the State of the Union address to veto any increased sanctions on Iran’s likely pursuit of a nuclear arsenal. Even though many in the region have warned the White House of Iran’s intentions.

“Should a single American or Zionist missile land in our country, before the dust settles, Iranian missiles will blow up the heart of Israel,” Cleric Mojtaba Zolnour, the supreme leader in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, told the Islamic Republic News Agency in 2010.

The president should just own up to his disdain for the prime minister, and drop the shtick about “practice and principle.” Netanyahu and Obama have what Earnest calls a “fundamental disagreement” about Iran’s diplomatic standing.

According to Haaretz, an Israeli news source, Obama has directly warned Netanyahu to stop urging lawmakers to propose additional sanctions on Iran.

Disagreement or not, I think the possible threat of a nuclear Iran and an endangered Israel is reason enough for the president to break tradition and meet with the
prime minister.

Yet again, I have to laugh to keep from crying.

How can an American president — leading a country with great interest in the Middle East — dis such a strong ally when “Rome is burning?”

Of course, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough is on cleanup duty now, distancing Obama’s administration from any negative comments toward Netanyahu.

“I guarantee that it’s not me, not the president and not what we believe,” McDonough said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” of the unnamed sources’ quotes.

Regardless of McDonough’s words, it is Obama who chose to be interviewed last week by GloZell, a YouTube celebrity who eats cereal out of a bathtub, but who will not make time for Israel’s leader.

I love GloZell’s videos just as much as the next bored college student, but really? I cannot imagine Obama’s public relations team did not see this media flub coming.
I think it is time for Obama to ditch the Froot Loops and take the opportunity to meet with Netanyahu, if for no other reason than to keep me from crying.

Read the original post at the Liberty Champion here.

LaSalle Blanks: A dream realized


I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Emmy award-winning journalist LaSalle Blanks. Having worked for 13 News Now, the Hampton Roads ABC News affiliate, for over 16 years, Blanks understands the hard work that goes into professional journalism.

Having reported from places all around the world and collecting professional accolades along the way — including a Virginia Association of Broadcasters Award for a series on racial issues and having a special appearance on “Wheel of Fortune” — Blanks has proven that hard work really does pay off.

“I knew I wanted to be on TV doing some kind of reporting when I was a kid … (at age) seven or eight years old,” Blanks said. “It started with me trying to be a Yankees announcer. … I would turn down the volume, and start calling the game and report for myself.”

When he got a little older, Blanks would watch Bryant Gumbel on NBC’s “Today Show” and it was then that he decided he wanted to be a reporter.

“He sort of became my role model, because I saw somebody on air who was using his mind, and that appealed to me,” Blanks said. “I thought (to myself), ‘this guy’s smart.’”

From there, Blanks went into print journalism in high school as a sports writer for his hometown paper, the Fairfield Citizen, but his true passion was broadcast.

Today, Blanks is living out his dream. As a broadcast journalist for 13 News Now, he is the Social Media Anchor and he hosts his own daily show at 4 p.m. called “Making Your Mark,” highlighting the positive news that happens around Hampton Roads.

In preparation for the daily tasks that come along with being a reporter for a major news station, Blanks said it is critical for journalists to keep up with current events. He said as a reporter, “you have to know what’s going on.”

“You can’t have viewers come up to you and say, ‘Hey, did you hear about that?’” Blanks said, “ … You’re the one who’s supposed to be giving them the information.”

As for how to remain on top of the news cycle in today’s social media-driven society, Blanks said the new technology has totally transformed how the journalism industry operates.

“(Social media) has completely changed my career because I have a completely new role at the station,” Blanks said of his promotion to Social Media Anchor. “I used to anchor the morning show … for 15 years and then (social media) happened … and this is where our industry is going.”

During the station’s research on how to adapt to the new online media presence, it discovered that Blanks was the No. 1 personality on Facebook and Twitter in Hampton Roads.

“It used to be when we were on TV, when we said ‘breaking news,’ that was the first that you heard about it,” Blanks said. “But now, when you pick up your phone, … that’s your first hint of what’s going on, and then you might turn on the TV. That’s a complete role-reversal.”

In this new position and as an anchor for his daily show, Blanks has made it his goal to focus on the often-forgotten good news of Hampton Roads. When you see your local news stations’ headlines, “you may think your hometown is the crime capital of the world,” Blanks said. He wants to play a role in changing that perspective.

But the interviews and story assignments are not always easy. In fact, early on in his professional career, Blanks was sent to Lansing, Michigan, to interview the president of the Klu Klux Klan because of a rally they were hosting on the state’s capitol steps.

“It was tough for obvious reasons,” Blanks said of covering that story as an African-American. “But you still treat every interview the same. It’s your job; you go in and get information. And he actually gave me a compliment at the end. I said, ‘Thank you,’ and went on my way.”

When moments like that come, Blanks said to remember what makes a good journalist. Remain factual in your reporting, tell the story and have thick skin, do not be afraid to ask questions and do not panic over finding the perfect phrase, “stay strong” and, “if you have a dream, go get it.”

From playing “Jeopardy” with Alex Trebek to acting alongside Susan Lucci in an episode of “All My Children,” Blanks has had many milestone moments as a television personality and journalist. But his greatest passion is true journalism —reporting the news and informing the public on issues that matter, in hopes of bettering society.

Follow-up: Houston subpoenas dropped

Untitled-9Houston Mayor Annise Parker recently rose to national attention when she subpoenaed five Houston-area pastors for the content of their sermons, later changing the wording to refer to them as “speeches.”

After many letters, calls, emails, tweets, Facebook posts and editorials, Parker ordered her office to rescind the subpoenas Wednesday, Oct. 29. The decision came the day after the mayor met with the five pastors and other ministry leaders from across the country, according to Christianity Today.

As a member of the journalism industry, and someone who contributed to the editorials calling out Parker for her attack on religious liberty, I am thrilled with the reversal. Not only is this a victory for religious freedom, but also a victory for journalism, affirming our ability to affect change through engaging our culture.

“After much contemplation and discussion, I am directing the city legal department to withdraw the subpoenas issued to the five Houston pastors,” Parker stated at a press conference Oct. 29.

This entire debacle began with Parker’s Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). When the mayor presented HERO, these five pastors delivered petitions with 50,000 signatures calling for a citywide vote on the passage of the 31-page ordinance, according to Fox News.

One of the most controversial policies under HERO offers individuals — both male and female — the freedom to use any restroom they want without question, according to several reports on the legislation. Naturally, the pastors saw the ignorance of such a policy, as well as the dangers it could bring, and acted.

Parker did not approve. Thus, the subpoenas.

Out of the subpoenas was born a defense of religious liberty that sparked national attention and developed into a nationwide movement. If it had not been for dedicated journalists, standing by their convictions and using their platforms to rally calls for change, the subpoenas might still be alive and well.

But while the subpoenas may be dead, Parker is still kicking and screaming. Our job is not over.

“We are going to continue to vigorously defend our ordinance against repeal efforts,” Parker said.

Erik Stanley, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom and the pastors’ lawyer, told Fox News columnist Todd Starnes that the mayor really did not have a choice but to recall the subpoenas because she was criticized from every side — liberal and conservative — from all around the country.

With HERO still on the table, it is critical that we remain vigilant in defending the freedoms on which this nation was founded.

“This is what bullies do when people stand up to them,” Tony Perkins, Family Research Council president, told Starnes. “They back down.”

We must continue to stand up. We must continue to defend freedom in whatever form it is attacked, working to ensure that the United States remains the bastion of liberty it was created to be.

In this case, the only way to ensure maximum freedom for the people of Houston is to take this ordinance directly to the city’s citizens, thereby allowing them to vote on the policy. However, even with overturned subpoenas, Parker has blocked the pastors’ petition, denying Houstonians the right to vote on HERO, according to the Religion News Service. But, with hard work and determination, that could change.

The fight is not over. It is time once again, journalists, to use the power of our pens to relay our insistence on the protection of the rights of all peoples.

As I wrote in my first editorial on the Houston subpoenas, the sacred has always ruffled the secular world’s feathers. The tension is not new, but, if our freedoms do not remain intact, it could bring about irreversible damages.

View the original post at the Liberty Champion.