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News & Commentary
Hannah More: Powerhouse in a Petticoat

Meet the heart of William Wilberforce's abolitionist movement.

Imagine yourself seated at a fashionable London dinner party in 1789.

The women are wearing hoops several feet wide, their hair dressed nearly as high and adorned with fruit or feathers. In between hips and hair, bosoms overspill. The men sport powdered hair, ruffled shirts, embroidered waistcoats, wool stockings, and buckled shoes. Politeness and manners reign around a table laden with delicate, savory dishes.

As guests wait for the after-dinner wine to arrive, a handsome but demure woman pulls a pamphlet from the folds of her dress. “Have you ever seen the inside of a slave ship?” she asks the natty gentleman seated next to her. She proceeds to spread open a print depicting the cargo hold of the Brookes slave ship. With meticulous detail, the print shows African slaves laid like sardines on the ship’s decks, each in a space so narrow, they can’t lay their arms at their sides. The print will become the most haunting image of the transatlantic slave trade—as well as a key rhetorical device used to stop it.

The woman sharing it is Hannah More.

“What William Wilberforce was among men, Hannah More was among women.” So the Christian Observer proclaimed upon More’s death in 1833. Wilberforce, the parliamentarian and politician, was the most public face of the campaign, and today is nearly synonymous with the British abolitionist movement. By contrast, as a woman who could not even vote or join abolitionist societies of the day, More was destined for obscurity. Yet historians agree she was the single most influential woman in the British abolitionist movement. One biographer said her efforts formed “one of the earliest propaganda campaigns for social reform in English ...

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Let Kelly Gissendaner Live

The Georgia Department of Corrections has done its job. She should not be executed.

It sounds like some Georgia state officials are desperately trying every trick in the book to not execute Kelly Gissendaner. Last Wednesday’s scheduled execution was postposed "due to weather and associated scheduling issues," department spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan said.

Then last night, the Georgia Department of Corrections issued a statement: “Within the hours leading up to the scheduled execution, the Execution Team performed the necessary checks. At that time, the drugs appeared cloudy. The Department of Corrections immediately consulted with a pharmacist, and in an abundance of caution, Inmate Gissendaner's execution has been postponed."

If these are in fact mere delaying tactics, we wish them success, because the governor of Georgia simply does not have the authority—nor does the Georgia Supreme Court and the State Board of Pardons and Paroles have the desire—to grant clemency.

So we wish God’s speed and success to anyone anywhere in the Georgia Department of Corrections who can delay and/or prevent Kelly Gissendaner from being killed by the state.

Make no mistake, Gissendaner is guilty as guilt can be, as she stated in a clemency petition:

There are no excuses for what I did. I am fully responsible for my role in my husband’s murder. I had become so self-centered and bitter about my life and who I had become, that I lost all judgment. I will never understand how I let myself fall into such evil . . .

So Gissendaner, 46, was duly convicted of plotting to kill her husband, although it was her boyfriend, Gregory Owen, who carried out the gruesome deed in February 1997. Once they were arrested, plea bargains were offered to both to guarantee only life ...

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LSD, Revolution, Buddhism, Then Jesus

The conversion of an original Jesus freak.

Some of my friends—those of us who used to say things like, “Don’t trust anyone over 30”—now joke with each other that if you remember the 1960s, you weren’t there. Our memory gaps from the countercultural era have nothing to do with our encroaching senility.

As a college student, did I really run into a friend at a Grateful Dead concert, where, already high on pot and hashish, we did a line of cocaine for good measure? Did we really wear tie-dyed bandanas and our hair halfway down our backs as we wandered through a haze of incense and strobe lights set to the opening riffs of “Purple Haze”? Did we really take LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, and other hallucinogenic drugs to explore the outer frontiers of the cosmos, with its “deep” insights? Insights that produced deep responses like, “Far out, man”?

Our band of cosmic travelers was on a quest—to right the injustices of poverty, racism, and war, but also to fill the void of loneliness. We questioned authority; we questioned everything. The Moody Blues’ song “Question” described us perfectly:

Why do we never get an answer
When we’re knocking at the door?
With a thousand million questions
About hate and death and war?

’Cause when we stop and look around us
There is nothing that we need
In a world of persecution
That is burning in its greed.

Potent Elixir

I had not always been such a questioner.

I was raised in an upper-middle-class suburb of Chicago by nurturing, pious Catholic parents alongside a sweet, near-perfect sister. I went to a school where nuns administered doctrine and the occasional light corporal punishment. At age 7, I became an ...

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News: Prominent Chinese Christian Convert Accuses Another of Rape

Yuan Zhiming of China Soul on leave as more accusations emerge following claim by Chai Ling of All Girls Allowed.

As campus rape gets widespread scrutiny at America’s elite universities, top Chinese Christians in China and the United States are debating a Princeton incident from 1990.

The alleged rape involves two prominent activists associated with the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests who converted to Christianity and now have international platforms. The alleged victim says she is attempting to live out Matthew 18 and has taken her case to the wider church after years of private appeals. The accused pastor allegedly argues that the two engaged in “sexual immorality,” but that he isn’t culpable for his pre-Christian past because they are now both “new creations in Christ.”

Four years ago, Chai Ling, a leader in China's 1989 democracy movement, accused Yuan Zhiming, a dissident and a doctoral student at People's University, Beijing, in 1989, of raping her in her Princeton, New Jersey, apartment in 1990. Neither was a Christian at the time of the alleged assault, which occurred while Princeton University hosted them under an initiative for Chinese student dissidents.

Chai Ling is a two-time Nobel Prize nominee and one of the world’s most prominent critics of China’s one-child policy through her organization, All Girls Allowed. Yuan Zhiming is a well-known apologetics figure among the Chinese Christian diaspora as the founder of China Soul for Christ Foundation and producer of an acclaimed documentary, The Cross: Jesus in China.

Since the initial accusation, Chai has continued to seek a confession from Yuan that he raped her. But he has denied the rape allegation. After first contact with Chai, Yuan reportedly said, “Chai Ling, you are a young Christian, and you don’t ...

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Do Digital Decisions Disciple?

Online evangelists report the equivalent success of one Billy Graham crusade per day.

Three years ago, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) shifted its focus to online evangelism. It laid off about 50 people—10 percent of its staff—and “redeployed resources to focus on areas of greater impact.”

The change seems to be paying off. In 2014, the BGEA shared the gospel with almost 9.5 million people around the world. Of those, only about 180,000 were in a live audience at a crusade, while 7.5 million were reached through BGEA websites.

Of the 1.6 million people who told the BGEA they prayed “to accept Jesus Christ as [their] Savior” in 2014, less than 15,000 did so in person, while more than 1.5 million did so with the click of a mouse.

Since the BGEA launched its family of evangelistic websites—which include and—less than 4 years ago, more than 5 million people have indicated a decision for Jesus.

More than 20,000 people view a gospel presentation every day, essentially “a crusade a day online,” said John Cass, the BGEA’s Internet evangelism director.

And the BGEA isn’t even the biggest kid on the block. Global Outreach Media (GMO), which began in 2004 as part of Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) and spun off in 2011, reports more than 30 million online decisions for Jesus in 2014 out of 400 million viewed presentations across its 250 sites.

The numbers are mind-boggling—and accurate, said Michelle Diedrich, GMO’s chief marketing officer. “We have had our tracking and reporting verified and our systems audited. The great thing about the Internet is it’s all trackable.”

While some doubt that eternal salvation can be gained with the click of a button, ...

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Welcome to the Golden Age of Global Charity

Thanks to innovations in accountability, poverty-fighting efforts are flourishing like never before.

The global aid industry is experiencing an unparalleled era of evolution and transformation. Globalization of media has increasingly brought the plight of the world’s poor, disadvantaged, and disabled before our eyes. A growing awareness of the chasm between the privileged and the poor has spawned a tremendous burst of creativity in efforts to end poverty.

At the same time there has been an increasing demand for heightened scrutiny over the impact of poverty programs. Do any of them really work?

New evaluation tools have been adopted by a generation of academic researchers keen to answer this question, and we now have an array of surprising results. In A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, husband and wife Nicholas Kristof (columnist for The New York Times) and Sheryl WuDunn (a business executive and former Times journalist) chronicle these exciting developments. This is the best new book for those with a passion for understanding the most innovative and effective ways to love their global neighbor.

Restoring Accountability

The size of the charitable aid industry would surprise most people. The 1.4 million charities in the United States alone receive $1.5 trillion in revenues every year, mostly from private donations and government grants. Kristof and WuDunn point out that just in terms of its sheer mass, the charity industry is enormous, more than twice the size of the U.S. defense industry. The central theme of A Path Appears is how charitable endeavors are being transformed by a series of welcome innovations.

For example, until recently there has been very little understanding of whether dollars given to purported beneficiaries have translated into actual benefits. In many respects ...

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Make New Friends, Keep Texting the Old

Technology does too good a job at sustaining our distant friendships.

More than one million young, college-educated Americans move across state lines each year, according to new research reported in The New York Times. I belong to this mobile generation, with each move forcing me to say goodbye to pals from childhood, college, graduate school, and beyond.

I am grateful to have several friends whom I consider kindred spirits—who I can call up at any time and talk to about anything, who listen closely, care deeply, and pray unceasingly for me.

Every single one of these friends lives out of state.

Because of cell phones and constant Internet access, that distance doesn’t matter as much as it once might have. Friends message urgent prayer requests and updates. Through social media, we can keep up with some of the more mundane aspects of each other’s daily lives.

When psychologists and anthropologists investigate how modern technology affects our relationships, they often note the sheer number of “friends”—the average person on Facebook has 338. And they look at ways social media help to create an ever-widening network of shallow virtual connections and acquaintances.

Yet for people like me, social media let us keep certain people as part of our inner circle despite the distance, thus diverting our energy away from newer, in-person acquaintances. In a paradox of the times, technology has helped this generation maintain emotionally close, long-distance friends while staying emotionally distant from local friends. We can keep the friends we found in college and graduate school as we move to different locations seeking jobs. Though we may make new friends locally, technology enables us to fall back on old friends far away when crises hit. Quick texts ...

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Parents: Give Up Your Great Expectations

Embracing the imago Dei over childhood milestones.

Daniel Kish is blind. And he can see. In a segment from the new podcast Invisiblia, featured on This American Life, we meet Daniel and hear his fascinating story. (For anyone interested in the influence of expectations upon individuals and their communities, this episode is worth listening to in full.)

In short: After surgeons removed his eyes when he was 13 months old, Daniel’s mother made the uncommon choice to allow him to climb and run and navigate the world on his own. Eventually Daniel developed a way to see around him by making clicking noises comparable to bats using echolocation. He learned to ride a bike, went to a typical public school, and developed a love for hiking. MRI evidence shows that Daniel’s clicks activate the visual cortex in his brain just as opening my eyes stimulates my visual cortex. In other words, Daniel literally is a blind man who can see.

His story commands attention, yet Daniel insists his abilities aren’t that remarkable. Raised under the assumption he could function independently, he believes blind people who need significant assistance are the product of low expectations, not the inevitable result of losing vision.

Modern research bears out Daniel’s assertions. When teachers are told ahead of time what to expect from their students (i.e., this student is an “A student” or a “D student”), the teachers’ expectations affect the students’ grades. Similarly, as Stanford Professor Carol Dweck explains in her book, Mindset, students who think that their intelligence is fixed learn less than students who assume they can grow in intelligence.

I’ve seen the same thing with our oldest daughter Penny, who has Down syndrome. ...

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Review: The Drop Box

It doesn’t prove that these kids are worthwhile; it just shows that they are, and that's what's beautiful.

mpaa rating:Not Rated


Directed By: Brian Ivie

Run Time: 1 hour 19 minutes

Cast: N/A

Theatre Release:March 03, 2015 by Focus on the Family / Kindred Image

Brian Ivie’s documentary The Drop Box is an emotional balancing act: on one side is the heartbreaking fact that millions of children are abandoned at birth around the world every year. On the other side is the triumphant story of The Drop Box’s Pastor Lee Jong-rak, pastor of Jusarang (God’s Love) Community Church in Seoul, South Korea.

Pastor Lee’s family and a handful of volunteers work to provide a home for over a dozen mildly to severely disabled children (including Pastor Lee’s son), and since December 2009, they have saved the lives of hundreds of abandoned newborns through their “baby box.”

The concept and apparatus are simple: mothers who are unable to care for their children, as often for social reasons as economic ones in Seoul, can leave their babies in the box for Pastor Lee to care for. The box itself is like a cupboard: the baby is placed inside a padded, heated compartment, and when the door shuts a bell rings to alert the house.

Pastor Lee stays up most nights to listen for the bell, and the first thing he does after carefully lifting a baby from the box is kneel to pray. He’ll then get the baby to a hospital and pass him or her on to an orphanage or adoption agency.

The process is remarkably seamless. The mothers remain anonymous, the child is immediately given care, and the box is open to any who need it. But the work has complications. Many of the children are disabled, and the lack of records makes hospital visits challenging. Pastor Lee’s own health has suffered from his tireless work ethic. And there are all the children who live with the Lees permanently, most of whom need constant care. From the film’s perspective, though, none ...

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Review: Maps to the Stars

A well-acted but excessively bleak satire of the Hollywood echo chamber.

mpaa rating:R (For strong disturbing violence and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug material.)


Directed By: David Cronenberg

Run Time: 1 hour 51 minutes

Cast: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Evan Bird

Theatre Release:February 27, 2015 by Focus World

One of David Cronenberg’s trademarks as a filmmaker is his exploration of the body, particularly the horrors of its fragility. Through films like Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986) and Existenz (1999), he helped pioneer the “body horror” genre. He adopted bogeyman tropes to stories where the scares come not from external monsters or villains, but from within—from the embodied self’s toxic neurosis.

His movies have a cold, nihilistic view of humanity in the modern age. Humans are often indistinguishable from animals (bursts of animalistic, emotionless violence are regular Cronenbergian motifs) or simply machines, soulless cogs in a meaningless web of money, sex, drugs, and power.

Maps to the Stars, a harsh and exaggerated look at the bleak goings-on of celebrities in Los Angeles, is no exception. With its body-image obsession, Botox body-alteration tendencies, and animalistic views of sex and survival, Hollywood is in many ways the perfect backdrop for Cronenberg’s “body horror” fascination.

Almost too perfect.

Maps zeroes in on all the worst things about Hollywood (especially actors) and cynically pushes them to the limits of grotesquery, but does it have anything insightful to offer? Unlike other “inside Hollyweird” films by auteur directors, Maps is neither beautiful (like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive), nor smart (like Spike Jonze’s Adaptation), nor funny (like Christopher Guest’s For Your Consideration). It’s just gross.

Maps follows a series of interlocking, incestuous (both figuratively and literally) storylines involving a cadre of highly unlikable Hollywood people: an aging actress (Julianne Moore, exceptional as always), a schizophrenic ...

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The Long Tail: ‘Love Me,’ ‘Traitors’ and ‘The Widowmaker’

Global takes on stories about hookers, wannabe punk rockers, and . . . coronary artery scanning?

Alissa’s note: Ken Morefield, a long-time contributor to Christianity Today Movies and a cinephile and critic for whom I have great respect, writes a monthly post we call “The Long Tail.” Each month, he looks at a few films that are being primarily distributed to American audiences through DVDs or Internet streaming and tries to surface some movies that might otherwise fly under the radar. Look for a new column every first Tuesday of the month!

Now entering its thirteenth year, Film Movement’s “Film of the Month Club” is cherished by fans of world cinema who may not be able to afford to attend festivals. Subscribers get a feature film on DVD, often weeks or months before that film is available via streaming outlets.

The Club’s January and February selections highlight the value of the service, particularly for those of us who don’t live in major metropolitan areas and don’t have access to specialized brick-and-mortar DVD outlets. Love Me and Traitors are interesting, engaging films that transcend their genres largely because they don’t play out their genre stories in settings with which American viewers may be unfamiliar.

Maryna Gorbach’s and Mehmet Bahadir Er’s Love Me is a cross between Pretty Woman and The Hangover, with just a splash of Before Sunrise. Cemal (Ushan Çakir), a Turkish man on the verge of an arranged marriage, is dragged by his uncle to a bachelor party weekend in Ukraine. In a landscape of brazen sex industry tourism, Cemal’s half-way decent guy credentials are established by his reluctance to engage in prostitution—at least in its official forms. Whether he can withstand the peer pressure to take advantage ...

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How HGTV Built a Network on Redemption Stories

The real reason we get hooked watching home renovations.

The amount of time I’ve spent watching HGTV far surpasses the hours I’ve spent working on my home. Like millions of Americans, I have succumbed to the allure of before-and-after shots, style suggestions, and DIY tutorials that make the network one of the most popular on cable TV.

I find myself swooning over the latest renovation on Fixer Upper or the amazing transformations on Property Brothers. And last summer, I smiled and laughed along with popular Christian author and blogger Jen Hatmaker’s reality TV debut on My Big Family Renovation.

Seeing the Hatmakers remodel their Austin-area farmhouse made me long for personal, colorful upgrades in my own rough-around-the-edges 1920s bungalow. Jen and her pastor husband Brandon Hatmaker return to HGTV tonight, working with other big families to renovate their own homes on the network newest series Your Big Family Renovation, which airs at 8/7 central.

In the 20 years since HGTV’s debut, it has grown to become a “guilty pleasure” for viewers—mostly women. The guilt over our obsession with paint swatches and home projects can stem from an impulse against materialism and a desire to resist “conforming to the patterns of this world” (Rom. 12). Is it too aspirational? Too perfect? Too focused on style and appearance?

The LA Times attributed HGTV’s popularity to a sense of “useful escapism.” While I do use HGTV to escape some evenings, my own house is often most tastefully decorated with piles of unread magazines, dirty dishes, and laundry that hasn’t made it to the washer.

But like most good entertainment, the reality shows on HGTV are able to tell a compelling story in the midst of designers’ ...

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The Celebrity Writer who Changed the World

An interview with Karen Swallow Prior about Hannah More's legacy as a writer, activist, and educator

Professor and writer Karen Swallow Prior’s biography of Hannah More—abolitionist, poet, and reformer—came out last fall. March is Women’s History Month, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to ask Karen to reflect upon More’s life and legacy:

Although I hadn't learned of Hannah More until you brought her to my attention, I now think of her as an abolitionist alongside William Wilberforce and others who helped stop the British slave trade. But your book covers much more than More's anti-slavery efforts. What other causes was she involved in? How did her faith influence her involvement in those causes?

This is the aspect of More’s life that is so fascinating and instructive. She and her fellow Evangelical friends were by no means “single issue” activists. They sought moral and religious reform across an astonishing range of issues. More, specifically, worked in the area of education more than anything else. She started out as a teacher at a girls’ school opened by her older sisters and began writing didactic works for their students and eventually wrote a great deal on the changes she wanted to bring to female education, particularly for middle- and upper-class girls.

She eventually turned her attention to the education of the lower classes, opening numerous Sunday Schools outside of Bristol where the children, and eventually some parents too, were taught reading, arithmetic, Bible lessons, catechism, and employable skills. More’s prolific body of writing covers a wide range of topics including faith practices, Christian marriage, kindness to animals, frugality and stewardship, and spiritual devotion.

In her old age, after she had accumulated a fair ...

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If I See Blue, and You See White, Why Does It Matter?

The significance of our viral debate over #TheDress.

For a few hours, all our other divisions seemed suspended—progressive vs. conservative, Coke vs. Pepsi, Cowboys vs. Redskins—as the world became diverted by debate over a little blue (or is it white?) dress.

It began Thursday when a woman posted a picture on Tumblr and asked what color the dress was. Some of her friends saw it as black and blue, some as white and gold, and within hours the question about #TheDress was discussed in social media feeds and living rooms across the globe.

Just as quickly, a moral debate erupted: in a world wracked by terrorism, rising ocean levels, crippling storms, how dare we waste so much passion and existential angst over the color of a dress?

Yet #TheDress was far more than a meaningless meme. The online debate offered a fascinating science lesson, united people in a respite of harmless fun, and provided powerful insights into the relationship between subjective experience and objective reality.

As far as the science goes, Wired provides the geekiest explanation. Basically, people see the dress in the original photo as either black and blue or white and gold because of how our brains process information about color differently based on variations of lighting, shade, and background.

The photo was so perfectly balanced on a perceptual threshold that viewers’ brains adjusted one way or the other on the color spectrum, either toward blue and black or the toward white and gold. (Actually, the first time I saw the image, I thought it was periwinkle and olive. I don’t know what that means.) One scientist called the photos "the best test I've ever seen for how the process of color correction works in the brain." This compilation of similar optical ...

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