Fall 1998, Vol. 1, No. 2

Contents Page,
Vol. 1, No. 2


Quick Links
to other articles
in this issue:
A New Establishment?

Race and Disgrace

Submission in Salt Lake

Church, Lies, and Polling Data

Catholic Controversy I:  Jesus Off Broadway

Catholic Controversy II:  Handling Pedophilia

Catholic Controversy III:  Philadelphia Story

On the Beat:  "Irreligion" in Denmark

The Oklahoman's Bible Belt

by Joshua Bernard Coffin

In November 1997, religion editor Pat Gilliland replaced the Daily Oklahoman’s weekly Bible lesson with a more secular "spiritual message" as part of an overall redesign of the paper’s traditionally conservative religion section. Readers revolted. "I got more reaction to that little change than I’ve gotten to anything that I’ve ever done in the religion pages," said Gilliland.

On January 17, the Bible lesson reappeared, written as before by Rev. L. G. Parkhurst, Jr., a former Congregational minister and author of The Believer’s Secret of Spiritual Power and Prayer Steps to Serenity. One month later, the Oklahoman began offering its readers the opportunity to ask him questions about the lesson via what appears to be the first and only interactive on-line Bible forum run by a secular daily newspaper. Parkhurst, who took charge of the Bible lesson in August 1989, proposed offering the forum as a vehicle of evangelical outreach. "I’m hoping that someone out there is going to hit the Bible lesson or the online forum and experience a change," he said. "My intention is to hit the non-believers."

The open, uncensored forum- not require user registration. For their part, users are free either to begin new discussions or to continue old ones. Because all postings are continually active, the forum can accommodate multiple discussions simultaneously, and these can and do range freely.

In Parkhurst’s view, the forum has given religiously and geographically diverse people the chance to communicate in ways not otherwise possible. "Many of them are seeking some sort of spiritual support," he said. "Others are looking to Scripture for answers." In one case, an atheist from Canada whose fianc_e had died of cancer posted a message thanking forum members for their spiritual support. "Through this time of grieving the loss of the woman I wanted to marry, I have always maintained my hope," he wrote. "I am better able to manage my grief than when I last told the forum about my loss."

The forum currently shows between three and fifteen new postings each day. The large

The Oklahoman's On-Line Bible
Lesson and Forum

L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.'s Bible Lesson
for November 7, 1998

"When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end."

Psalms 73:16,17

The psalmist deeply thought about his faith; and as he looked around, he almost began to doubt the character of God. How could a just God allow arrogant and wicked people to prosper and die in comfort? When they violently oppressed and stole from the righteous, when they cursed the God of heaven, why did God let them continue to live in comfort and peace? The psalmist began to envy their success, and he was tempted to think that wicked living was wiser than following God's laws.

He finally found the answer to his doubts and overcame his temptations after he went to worship God. In the sanctuary, he heard the Scriptures read and explained. He learned that a just God would enforce His laws in the next life, if not in this one. He discovered once more that the benefits of believing in God included receiving God's guidance in this life and God's welcome into heavenly glory after death. When life seems the most unfair, where do you find the answers to your doubts or questions?

A Mormon-Baptist Dialogue on Eschatology and the Restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem

Anybody have any thoughts about the statement from the group "Temple Mount Faithful" about setting the cornerstone to the Temple on October 20? The cornerstone will not excite me much, but if the walls start going up, then I will get very excited.   I have read that Israel actually has components of the temple, (walls, etc.) prefabricated according to biblical dimensions and hidden out in the desert so that when they begin to start rebuilding the temple, it will progress very quickly.  Are we living in the last days, or what?

Bryan Griffith

Brother Grifith,
I honestly am not trying to pick on you, I just couldn't resist your posting on "temple" and the "last days."  As you know the LDS Church has rapidly increased the building of temples.  When I was a child, Mesa Arizona Temple, about 16 hours away, was our closest temple.  During the time I was a teenager the Dallas Texas Temple (which we currently use) is about 3 hours away, was built.  With the rapid pace of temple building (over 100 in use by next Summer), hopefully we can have a Temple of the Lord right here in Oklahoma!  This surely is in preparation for the Lord's Second Coming.

Bro. Billy Choate

P.S. I am not familiar with the group "Temple Mount Faithful" but if you check with the BYU Jerusalem Center they probably have more information available.

Bro. Billy,
I sincerely hope you know that I was referring to the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. This is the temple that the Antichrist will sit in and proclaim himself to God.  I know this falls in line with the doctrine of eternal progression, but doesn't the book of Mormon even have any references to this?

Bryan Griffith

majority of entries come from a core group of approximately one dozen regular participants. Their contributions address such topics as eternal damnation, the authority of Scripture, and the existence of God. "This forum serves as an outlet to discuss spiritual issues, with fellow Christians and occasionally non-Christians alike," wrote forum user John Ward in response to an e-mail query. "Jesus says where two are gathered, there am I in the midst. I have felt His presence even as I talk with someone in cyberspace about His Word."

In a recent series of postings, two users-one a Southern Baptist and the other a Mormon-argued heatedly over conflicting understandings of baptism, resurrection, faith, repentance, priestly authority, and salvation. "Does my interpretation contradict the teachings of Jesus or those of the LDS church?" asked the Southern Baptist. "My words may contradict some teachings of the Book of Mormon, but then that means the Book of Mormon contradicts the Bible...If both of us are believers, how is it that the Holy Spirit can lead us to such different conclusions?"

Oklahoman editors generally explain the presence of the paper’s distinctive religion features-which include a daily prayer-as simply serving the readers’ desires. "The prayer and Bible lesson are integral parts of our readers’ lives," explained Managing Editor Edward Kelly. "They appreciate having them there." As for the Bible forum, "what drives us is that people are interested in it," said Kelly Dyer, managing editor of the paper’s online edition.

Yet the Oklahoman, with a stated commitment to "actively" making Oklahoma "a better place to live," also has an agenda of its own that reflects the conservative outlook of its owners, the Gaylord family. "We’re trying to change the political culture," Editorial Page Editor Patrick McGuigan told journalist James Risser in the June 1998 issue of the American Journalism Review. "We’re trying to make Oklahoma a conservative bastion." Noted Risser: "[The Oklahoman] seems most dedicated to urging a right-wing, anti-government conservatism on its not-always-receptive readers."

One unreceptive letter-writer responded to the paper’s treatment of homosexuality by declaring, "Homosexuals are made in the image of God and are in every way as valuable to and valued by God as are heterosexuals. You do a great disservice to this community by assuming the role of our moral conscience and by denying us the opportunity to make our own judgment and reach our own decisions." In the spirit of promoting the "full participation of persons in all their activities without regard to any particular religious belief, creed, or interpretation," the First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City makes a practice of monitoring the Oklahoman’s news coverage. Any notable concern is brought to the congregation’s attention via bulletin board postings and member announcements. "Its editorial policies are especially irritating," said Rev. Cynthia Johnson, the Unitarian minister. "The Daily Oklahoman is a paper that uses journalism to achieve its own political purposes."

Yet the paper’s approach is hardly out of step with readership in one of the most conservative states in the nation. "The media is known to be biased against all that is conservative, politically as well as religiously," wrote one reader. "You have been a bulwark in areas where fundamental values are at stake." Another reader, a local minister, expressed support for the paper’s decision not to publish a month’s worth of Lynn Johnston’s comic strip For Better For Worse that dealt with issues of homosexuality. "We hope the Oklahoman will continue to show discretion and support of morals and family values in the future," he wrote. "You have our support and prayers."

For non-Christians, the Oklahoman’s commitment to evangelical Protestantism is just a fact of life. "Most Jews recognize that the Oklahoman is owned by the Gaylord family and that it will therefore be more conservative in its content," explained Rabbi David Packman of Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City. "Sure, it would be nice to have a section devoted to Judaism, but they own the newspaper and we don’t. That’s the reality."

And the reality is that the newspaper’s daily prayer, weekly Bible lesson, and online Bible forum are there to stay. "We don’t care what other papers think," said Managing Editor Kelly. "These sections are a long-standing tradition of the Daily Oklahoman, and we plan to continue with them for quite some time."