December 30, 2019

It may look like a pair of recent editorials in Christianity Today, a prominent evangelical Christian magazine, criticizing President Trump and the evangelicals who stalwartly support him caused a fracture in the white evangelical community. A group of nearly 200 prominent evangelical conservatives quickly attacked the first CT editorial, in which outgoing editor-in-chief Mark Galli argued that Trump should be removed from office, and a large group of religious scholars and speakers pushed back.

But the fight over evangelical fealty to Trump is only "exacerbating a long-term crisis facing white evangelicalism, some Christians say — it is being abandoned by younger generations," Reuters notes. And "Trump's presidency may make the age gap worse." White evangelicals made up 15 percent of the U.S. population in 2018, versus 23 percent in 2006, and the average age of white evangelicals is 55, compared with 44 for the overall white population, according to Public Religion Research Institute data.

Napp Nazworth, the politics editor at the more conservative Christian Post, resigned last week over his publication's plans to criticize Christianity Today's anti-Trump editorial. "Having to go out and defend this guy day after day, as many of these Trump evangelicals are doing, they're just destroying their credibility," Nazworth tells Reuters, and they "will have no moral authority to speak to moral issues of the day after defending him."

There has been a big drop-off in white evangelical church participation among adults under 40, and "one of the major factors is that the church is too tied up in right-wing politics," Greg Carey, a professor at Pennsylvania's Lancaster Theological Seminary, tells Reuters. He specifically mentioning evangelical activism against gay rights. The evangelical church's "singular focus" on gay marriage and abortion just makes the younger generation "shrug," agreed Dartmouth religion professor Randall Balmer.

That doesn't mean young white evangelicals are embracing Democrats. "No political party embodies Jesus' teaching closely," says Christian writer Marlena Graves. Listen to how the last Rachel Held Evans threaded that needle at The New York Times' "The Daily" podcast. Peter Weber

6:26 p.m.

WarnerMedia has dropped some news that, if you're a Friends fan, might just make your day, your week, your month, or even your year.

A Friends reunion special has been officially announced for WarnerMedia's upcoming streaming service, HBO Max, where the classic sitcom will also find its new home after its departure from Netflix. To be clear, this won't be a new episode of Friends, but rather an unscripted special in which the cast reunites on the soundstage where the series was shot for what's described as "a celebration of the beloved show."

The special had previously been rumored, but it was officially confirmed on Friday. Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer are all on board, and Variety reports they'll each be paid at least $2.5 million, not too shabby at all for what essentially sounds like a DVD bonus feature.

As far as an actual revival of the series goes, don't get your hopes up: creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman have repeatedly ruled it out, meaning this is about as close as we're likely ever going to get.

Still, being able to promote HBO Max as the exclusive home of a highly-anticipated Friends reunion is a big deal for WarnerMedia, which reportedly paid more than $400 million for five years of the show's streaming rights. Both the special and the entire series will be there for you when HBO Max launches this May, at which point the streamer will have one thing to say to potential subscribers: how you doing? Brendan Morrow

5:40 p.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has a pretty good tale to share — but it may be a little tall.

Biden, who is running for president, has been spicing up his recent campaign stump speeches with a story of how he was arrested while in South Africa trying to see Nelson Mandela, The New York Times reports. But that recollection of events has only recently come to light, and it was reportedly omitted from Biden's 2007 memoir that detailed his escapades in the country around that time.

During recent campaign speeches, Biden says he "had the great honor" of meeting Mandela and "of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto." As Miami Herald reporter Alex Daugherty points out, Soweto is a ways away from Robben Island, where Mandela's maximum security prison was located.

The arrest, which has seemingly only been brought up publicly by Biden in the last few weeks, was not found referenced anywhere by readily available news outlets, per the Times.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. from 1977 to 1979 was Andrew Young. While Young reportedly acknowledged going to South Africa with Biden, he said he was never arrested in the country, and he told the Times he didn't think Biden had been arrested there either.

"I don't think there was ever a situation where congressmen were arrested in South Africa," Young told the Times, although he did say some people were being arrested in Washington.

The story, which was seemingly nonexistent before a few weeks ago, has been told three times on the trail as Biden heads into Nevada and South Carolina, where he needs to pull in big numbers in order to counteract a lackluster showing in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Word of advice: there are other ways to make yourself look tough to voters that don't include broadcasting a trip to the slammer. Marianne Dodson

5:31 p.m.

U.S. officials told Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that Russia is interfering in the 2020 campaign to help him win the presidency, people familiar with the matter tell The Washington Post.

President Trump and other lawmakers are also reportedly aware of the assistance, which is an apparent "effort to interfere with the Democratic contest," the Post writes. The Post didn't learn what kind of interference Russia was undertaking, but Russia did try to aid Sanders' 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton via social media.

Sanders denounced Russian interference on anyone's behalf in a statement to the Post, saying "I don't care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president. My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do."

Trump and the House Intelligence Committee reportedly learned earlier this week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 election to aid Trump's re-election. Read more at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:26 p.m.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will release three women from the nondisclosure agreements he'd signed with them "to address complaints about comments they said I had made," his campaign announced Friday.

In a statement, Bloomberg said his company "identified 3 NDAs that we signed over the past 30-plus years with women," and that "if any of them want to be released from their NDA so that they can talk about those allegations, they should contact the company." And after "a lot of reflecting," Bloomberg pledged to no longer "offer confidentiality agreements to resolve claims of sexual harassment or misconduct" while he was still running his company.

Bloomberg's choice is in no doubt influenced by Wednesday night's Democratic primary debate, where Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called on Bloomberg release women from their NDAs. Bloomberg said those women didn't "accuse me of doing anything; maybe they didn't like the joke I told."

Warren followed up by writing her own contract that Bloomberg could use to invalidate the NDAs and sharing it publicly on Thursday. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:13 p.m.

The jury in the Harvey Weinstein rape trial has indicated it's facing a potential deadlock on the most serious charges against him.

During the fourth day of deliberations on Friday, jurors in the Weinstein rape trial asked what they should do if they can't reach a verdict on the two predatory sexual assault charges, but can on the other three, Variety reports.

Weinstein is facing sexual assault and rape charges stemming from the allegations of Mimi Haleyi, who alleges Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her in 2006, and Jessica Mann, who alleges Weinstein raped her in 2013. But among the other accusers who testified was Annabella Sciorra, who alleges Weinstein raped her in 1993 or 1994.

Sciorra testified to support the two charges of predatory sexual assault, and it's her testimony that jurors have appeared to be focused on in recent days. On Friday, they revisited her cross-examination, and earlier in the week, they asked the judge to clarify why it is Weinstein didn't face charges specifically stemming from Sciorra's allegation. Her case is too old to prosecute, but the first count of predatory sexual assault relates to the allegations of Haleyi and Sciorra, while the second count relates to the allegations of Mann and Sciorra, The Wrap reports. Weinstein is also facing charges of criminal sexual act in the first degree, rape in the first-degree, and rape in the third-degree.

The prosecution on Friday said they wouldn't accept a "partial verdict," and the judge instructed jurors to continue deliberations, per The Hollywood Reporter. Not long after, the jury was dismissed for the day, with deliberations set to pick back up on Monday. Brendan Morrow

2:19 p.m.

Will another caucus catastrophe unfold this weekend in Nevada?

Democrats sure hope not, with a Nevada Democratic Party spokesperson telling NBC News that
"we have been working around the clock to ensure that what happened in Iowa will not happen here," also saying the party will be "taking no chances when it comes to reporting."

To that end, Nevada Democrats, NBC reports, have hired a call center with 200 paid operators to take in results on Saturday, with the party spokesperson saying steps like these should "ensure that our precinct chairs and site leads will be able to successfully report results on caucus day." In Iowa, problems arose both due to technical issues with an app and due to clogged phone lines that made it difficult to report results.

In a memo distributed to the 2020 campaigns, the Nevada state party's executive director said that a dedicated phone hotline will be the "primary source of the precinct caucus results," The New York Times reports. Precinct chairs, the memo said, will "call a hotline to securely report their results to a trained operator, will submit via text a photo of their caucus reporting sheet to state party staff through an established MMS reporting hub, and then they will return their caucus reporting sheet and other materials to their Site Lead."

The plan was originally for the Nevada caucus to use an app developed by the same company behind the disastrous Iowa app, but those plans, obviously, were ditched. Still, DNC Chair Tom Perez, who NBC reports will actually be on the ground for the caucus this time, earlier this week couldn't commit to the same-day release of the results, telling The Associated Press, "We're going to do our best to release results as soon as possible, but our North Star, again, is accuracy." Brendan Morrow

12:51 p.m.

The new horror sequel Brahms: The Boy II is, according to critics, pretty bad — and you can apparently thank Jared Kushner memes for its existence.

Director William Brent Bell in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter on Friday explained that the creepy doll sequel, a follow-up to his 2016 film The Boy, got off the ground specifically because there were so many memes comparing the doll to Kushner.

"That's when Lakeshore called me and said, you know, 'this is really taking on a life of its own now in the zeitgeist of pop culture," Bell explained. "You want to think about an idea for a sequel?'"

Bell further explained to UPI that producer Gary Lucchesi called him "after about six months" of The Boy-related Kushner memes proliferating online, as this proved that "the doll is still hanging around, so we have something that interested people." It was, evidently, memes first, sequel idea second.

Given the follow-up's dismal 8 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, there may be a lesson to be learned here: be careful when you meme. You may just inadvertently spawn a terrible horror movie. Brendan Morrow

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