More on Whether or Not Christian Colleges Were Behind the Evangelical Support of Trump

Boyer Hall

My response to SUNY-Binghamton education professor Adam Laats’s piece at History News Network has garnered some interesting conversation on Twitter.  Follow me at @johnfea1 to get up to speed.

Some tweeters are defending my original posts.  Others think Laats is on to something. And still others are taking this opportunity to talk about how they had bad experiences at Christian colleges in a way that has nothing to do with the original question that Laats posed.

A few tweeters wanted something more than anecdotal evidence to support my claim that evangelical Christian colleges are not to blame for Trump.  Chris Gehrz, aka The Pietist Schoolman, heard the call and tried to crunch some numbers.  It turns out that support for the GOP candidate in precincts that include a Christian college was often weaker in 2016 than in 2012.

Read his entire report here.  If you are interested in this question it is definitely worth your time.

A few of my own takeaways:

  • At Liberty University, support for the GOP candidate was down from 2012 and support for third party candidates was up.
  • In a central Pennsylvania region that went heavily for Trump, the precinct that contains Messiah College was an island of Hillary supporters.  In fact, support for the GOP candidate in this precinct went down over 18% between 2012 and 2016 and support for the Democratic candidate went up almost 9%. (Cumberland County, where Messiah College is located, went 57% for Trump and 38% for Hillary).
  • As Gehrz recently wrote on his Facebook page, the two biggest drops in support for the GOP candidate among Christian college precincts in MN, VA, PA, and OH came in the precincts for Gehrz’s school (Bethel University) and my school (Messiah College).

None of these statistics surprise me.  Nor does Gehrz’s conclusions.

I want to close this post by reiterating something that I said in my original post.  Christian colleges are not to blame for Trump because most evangelicals do not attend or support Christian colleges, especially those Christian colleges that are members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.  As I argued in the original post (with the help of a link to a 2005  Books and Culture piece by Allen Guelzo), Christian college students and faculty make-up a very small slice of the evangelical pie in America.

Wheaton College political scientist Bryan McGaw probably put it best:


*The Encyclopedia of Great Philadelphia* is Seeking Authors


Here is the post from the blog of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia:

The editors of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia seek to make 50 additional assignments to complete our current phase of expansion. Now is the time to add your expertise to a resource used daily by teachers and students, journalists, scholars, and general readers.

To view the list of available assignments, link here:

Call for authors

To join more than 350 leading and emerging scholars who have already contributed to this peer-reviewed, digital-first project, let us know your choice of topics. Authors will have the opportunity to select feasible deadlines between January and March 2017 and will have the option of volunteering or receiving modest stipends. Prospective authors must have expertise in their chosen subjects demonstrated by previous publications and/or advanced training in historical research. To express interest, please send an email describing your qualifications and specifying topics of interest to the editor-in-chief, Charlene Mires, No attachments, please. Graduate students, please include the name and email address of an academic reference.

The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia‘s expansion is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia, and Poor Richard’s Charitable Trust. The scope of the project includes the city of Philadelphia and the surrounding region of southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and northern Delaware. 

Guidelines for writers:

Roster of authors:

Editors and staff:

The Spiritual Discipline Against Resentment

moral-manThis is what I am thinking about today.

From Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society, p.248-249:

“One of the most important results of a spiritual discipline against resentment in a social dispute is that it leads to an effort to discriminate between the evils of a social system and situation and the individuals who are involved in it.  Individuals are never as immoral as the social situations in which they are involved and which they symbolise.  If opposition to a system leads to personal insults of its representatives, it is always felt as an unjust accusation.  William Lloyd Garrison solidified the south in support of slavery by the vehemence of his attacks against slave-owners.  Many of them were, with the terms of their inherited prejudices and traditions, good men; and the violence of Mr. Garrison’s attack upon them was felt by many to be an evidence of moral perversity in him.  Mr. Gandhi never tires of making a distinction between individual Englishmen and the system of imperialism which they maintain. “An Englishman in office,” he declares, “is different from an Englishman outside.  Similarly an Englishman in India is different from an Englishman in England.  Here in India you belong to a system that is vile beyond description.  It is possible, therefore, for me to condemn the system in the strongest terms, without considering you to be bad and without imputing bad motives to every Englishman.”  It is impossible completely to disassociate an evil social system from the personal moral responsibilities of the individuals who maintain it. An impartial teacher of morals would be compelled to insist on the principle of personal responsibility for social guilt.  But it is morally and politically wise for an opponent not to do so.  Any benefit of the doubt which he is able to give his opponent is certain to reduce animosities and preserve rational objectivity in assessing the issues under dispute.”

Are Christian Colleges Partly to Blame for the Overwhelming Evangelical Support for Donald Trump?


Mid-American Nazarene University

Adam Laats of the SUNY-Binghamton’s Graduate School of Education is writing a fascinating book on fundamentalist and evangelical colleges.  His working title is “Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education.” When completed, this will be the definitive history of evangelical higher education in 20th-century America.

Laats has shared some of his research in a recent History News Network piece titled “What Were White Evangelicals Thinking?” The piece tries to explain why over 80% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump.  Laats begins by pointing to the well-rehearsed reasons for why evangelicals pulled the level for The Donald: anti-Hillary sentiment, the Supreme Court, and the longstanding link between evangelicals and the GOP.

But Laats wants to offer another reason for why evangelicals supported Trump. He writes:

All those factors are true and important, but they are not sufficient to explain Trump’s popularity among white evangelicals.  If we really want to understand it, we need to grasp the true contours of the evangelical intellectual tradition.  That tradition has always made room for Trump’s brand of flag-waving, chest-thumping, America-First populism.  On the campuses of evangelical colleges and universities—the intellectual citadels of American evangelicalism—Trump-like attitudes have always found congenial homes.  

Laats then goes on to describe Christian nationalist sentiment at Wheaton College in 1935, Moody Bible Institute in 1947, and Bob Jones University in 1963.

“Leaders” of these schools did promote Christian nationalism during the 20th-century.  Laats is correct.  But then he takes his research and launches into the present.  He writes:

This sort of star-spangled spirit isn’t just a relic of Cold War Americana.  Into the twenty-first century, too, evangelical colleges and universities have harped on an in-your-face patriotism.  Last year, for example, administrator Randy Beckum at Mid-America Nazarene University was demoted and embarrassed.  His crime?  In a chapel talk, Beckum reminded his evangelical audience that their religious values should come before their Trumpish ones.

As Beckum put it, “We have to be very careful about equating patriotism with Christianity.”  Even more careful than Beckum imagined, apparently.  For questioning the knee-jerk Americanism so prevalent among his students, Beckum found himself the target of evangelical attack and ridicule.

I am familiar with the Mid-America Nazarene case that Laats cites.  He has described the case correctly.  But I would also add that nearly all evangelical colleges would have allowed, if not endorsed, the views that Beckum presented in the Mid-America Nazarene chapel.  In other words, Mid-America Nazarene University is hardly representative of evangelical Christian colleges today.  For every Liberty University or Mid-America Nazarene there are dozens and dozens of evangelical colleges who reject this kind of Christian nationalism and Trumpism.

I would venture to guess that the overwhelming majority of the faculty and administrators at evangelical colleges and universities in the United States DID NOT vote for Donald Trump.

If students at evangelical colleges voted for Trump–and there were many who did–it was not because they were fed pro-Trump rhetoric from their faculty.  In fact, I know several faculty and graduates from the ultra-conservative Bob Jones University who strongly opposed the Trump presidency.

Laats continues to compare Cold War evangelical colleges to evangelical colleges in 2016:

At evangelical colleges and universities, this tradition has always played a leading role in defining evangelical identity.  White evangelicals are a religious group, true, but they have also always been energized by a vague yet powerful patriotic traditionalism.  Like other enthusiastic Trump supporters, white evangelicals have been fueled by a combative culture-war patriotism.  They have always defined themselves by their proprietary attitude about “our” America, the one they hope President Trump will make great again.  

Were evangelical colleges fused with a  “combative culture-war patriotism” during the Cold War?  Yes.  But I don’t think this defines most evangelical Christian colleges today.

Having said that, I am not convinced that evangelical colleges are the best way of measuring evangelical support for Trump in November 2016.  Most evangelicals, both in the Cold War and today, did not or do not attend Christian colleges.

NOTE:  Since I am a fan of his work and respect his scholarship, I sent this post to Laats before I published it here.  He asked for an opportunity to respond and I gladly agreed. Stay tuned.

Why Historical Thinking is Essential in the #AgeofTrump

This morning two commentators were on CNN talking about how a gunman, claiming he was investigating a fake news story about Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, fired shots in a Washington D.C. pizzeria.

Yes, you read that correctly, a guy acted on a fake news story and could have killed someone.  Perhaps he was mentally unstable.  Perhaps he was one of the many people who feel empowered to do this kind of thing in the #ageoftrump. Or perhaps he was completely incapable of deciphering the difference between a fake news story and a real one.  To make matters worse, CNN is reporting that the son of Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s pick for National Security Adviser,  apparently created this story. Flynn himself has promoted similar stories.

In the course of the on-air discussion, both CNN commentators tried to say something about the importance of truth, evidence-based arguments, critical examination of news stories and other documents, understanding the context of news stories, and considering the source of such narratives.  Needless to say, I perked up as I watched these commentators desperately search for a language to describe this problem.

Let me suggest that the language they are looking for is the language of historical thinking.  Consider the recent report published by Sam Wineburg and the Stanford History Education Group. Read the entire thing here.  It is very rich and it should be read by all teachers, especially history teachers.

I remain convinced that the study of history is the best way to teach kids and college students how to read.  If Wineburg and these CNN commentators are correct, the study of history, and the thinking and reading skills that come with it, may be our best hope. Perhaps the #ageoftrump will finally wake us up to the need for this kind of thinking.   I hope so.

*The Bible Cause* Selected as Church History Book of the Year at Jesus Creed Blog

Bible Cause CoverScot McKnight, the proprietor and author of the Jesus Creed blog, has chosen The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society as his church history book of the year. Needless to say, I couldn’t be more happy and honored!   This means a lot since McKnight and Jesus Creed was one of my inspirations for entering the blogosphere back in 2008.

Here are Scot’s kind words about The Bible Cause:

Enter the Bible, and in particular, the American Bible Society, and it should not take long to see in the picture to the right an open Bible in one hand and American flag in the other. A recent and exceptional book by Messiah College historian, John Fea, called The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society, tells this story through one institution — the American Bible society — but in so doing Fea demonstrates the constant intersection of Bible and nation building. I recommend this book for all churches and for all schools, colleges and universities. The impact of the ABS is of magnitudes and often enough totally unknown. Fea is an exceptional historian of the church in America. His expertise in connecting ABS to American church history is all over this book. Those who read the New Testament in Greek or the Old Testament in Hebrew or the Septuagint in Greek read from an ABS or United Bible Societies produced edition. Many of the most important tools used in Bible studies today were produced by or in cooperation with the ABS. Every major translation of the Bible today translates the Hebrew and Greek texts produced in conjunction with ABS and UBS. This alone justifies the importance of knowing the story told by Fea.

Thanks, Scot.


The Author’s Corner with Gergely Baics

feedinggothamGergely Baics is Assistant Professor of History and Urban Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University. This interview is based on his new book, Feeding Gotham: The Political Economy and Geography of Food in New York, 1790-1860 (Princeton University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Feeding Gotham?

GB: Working on a research paper as a graduate student, I came across a vernacular sketch of African American dancing contests at Catharine Market in 1820 in Shane White’s wonderful article, “The Death of James Johnson.” The drawing captivated me for its intimate depiction of the vibrant and cosmopolitan public spaces of Early New York City. Catharine Market—its economy, social organization, and everyday life—became the subject of that paper. Over time, I realized that that small sketch of Catharine Market opened up a much larger subject: the vast and complex landscape of food provisioning in America’s first metropolis.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Feeding Gotham?

GB: Feeding Gotham brings the critical question of food access to the center of our understanding of nineteenth-century urban life and living standards. It argues that the antebellum deregulation of food markets created a new structural inequality, similar to health and housing conditions, that defined and shaped the development of the American city.

JF: Why do we need to read Feeding Gotham?

GB: Feeding Gotham examines the vital problem of food access in a city experiencing unprecedented growth, with its population rising from thirty thousand to nearly a million. It presents a comprehensive account based in political economy and the social and geographic history of the complex interplay of urban governance, market forces, and the built environment in provisioning New Yorkers. The book’s narrative traces how access to food, once a public good, became a private matter left to free and unregulated markets. In situating the deregulation of food markets within a broader matrix of public and private goods, it underlines the highly contested and open-ended outcomes of antebellum political economy debates. Moving beyond the debates, the bulk of the book studies the stakes involved. Most critical, Feeding Gotham brings the subject of food access to the center of our understanding of nineteenth-century urban living standards, a conversation thus far dominated by concerns over housing and sanitary provisions. The book documents how unequal access to food, much like shelter and sanitation, became a structural condition of inequality, part of the modern city’s increasingly stratified built and social environment. Importantly, the analysis extends to the understudied subject of food quality. It documents that the city’s surrender of all regulatory oversight of its food supplies contributed to deteriorating quality, which disadvantaged especially the rising rank of working-class immigrant populations. Central to the book’s approach is the systematic application of geographic information system (GIS) analysis. Feeding Gotham is the first book that maps the food system of a major nineteenth-century city, and one of few that deploys GIS systematically to study a specific problem in urban history. GIS mapping—from data creation to interpretation—provides a theoretical framework, methodological approach, and empirical base for the book’s main arguments. The extensive cartographic material was carefully created and designed to present a systematic and layered spatial analysis of food access in the nineteenth-century American city.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

GB: First, I became an urban historian, and second an Americanist. I cannot recall when my fascination with cities began—probably, growing up in Budapest has a lot to do with it. It was during my undergraduate years that I discovered that I could become an urban historian, and this felt like an obvious intellectual path for me. My attraction to America also began with cities. I watched films like The French Connection or Serpico as a kid, and I was thrilled by the images of gritty New York City. Over the years, I found myself again and again seeking to study in the U.S., and becoming intellectually fascinated by the extraordinary complexity of this country. American cities, their history of immigration, booms and declines, deep inequalities, layered geographies, perplexed and fascinated me. Focusing on transnational urban economic and social history for my Ph.D., I found my topic in the food system of nineteenth-century New York City. What began as a project in urban history, over the years also became a project in U.S. economic and social history. Today, I consider myself both an urbanist and Americanist. I am most fortunate to have a joint-appointment in History and Urban Studies.

JF: What is your next project?

GB: I am currently at work on a new monograph, tentatively titled, The Transitional City: Economic and Social Geography of New York in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. My ambition is to study empirically (with the systematic application of GIS mapping) and then to theorize the spatial processes that propelled the transition from what historians describe as the walking city of the early nineteenth century to the segregated metropolis of the late nineteenth century. In addition, with a coauthor we have been writing a series of articles linking back to this larger work, and making use of advanced GIS methods, focusing on land use, the street grid, and the experiential geography of nineteenth-century Manhattan. Finally, with two colleagues we are developing a new project on the spatial history of late nineteenth to early twentieth-century Copenhagen, making use of new crowdsourced GIS data. In all of these projects, besides the specific urban historical questions at stake, I am also interested in advancing methods of spatial history.

JF: Thanks, Gergely! Sounds like some great stuff.

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Claudio Saunt on the “invasion of America

Michael Sandel on the election of 2016

Against empathy.  And here.

Michael Medved is the latest to dabble in providential history

What’s next for liberalism?

The problem with identity politics explained by a see-saw analogy

Allen Guelzo reviews Ronald C. White, American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant.

Evelyn McDonald reviews Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run

Fake news and yellow journalism

Ralph Branca: Bearing the cross

Lin-Manuel Miranda as a Latino public intellectual

Responsive lecturing

Lauren Turek reviews Christine Heryrman, American Apostles: When Evangelicals Entered the World of Islam

Kevin Kruse on writing the first draft of history

Taking to the waters

America Participates

Hamilton” and public history

Tim Gloege wraps up his series on corporate evangelicalism

Episode 15: The Civil War

podcast-icon1Perhaps there is no story more important to the United States than that of our Civil War. It is no surprise then that historians continue to find new things to say about the conflict. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling discuss such things as living in the shadow of Gettysburg, the war’s most famous battle, teaching the Civil War, and the continued applicability of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. They are joined by the graphic historian Jonathan Fetter-Vorm (@fetter_vorm) who illustrated and co-wrote Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War. 

Stay Tuned for Episode 15 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast

battle-linesAt midnight tonight we drop Episode 15 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast.

It’s our Civil War episode and our guest is Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, illustrator of the wildly popular Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War (with Ari Kelman). Fetter-Vorm talks with us about the unique challenges in doing history in this genre.

Also on this episode: my reflections on Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, Drew admits that he is a comic book nerd, and we all tell our favorite local Civil War story.

If you are unfamiliar with The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast, check out past episodes here.  Guests on past episodes have includes Amy Bass (sports and cultural historian), Sarah McCammon (National Public Radio political reporter), Rebecca Onion (Slate blogger and historian), Anne Little (biographer and historian), Steven Edenbo (Thomas Jefferson re-enactor), Marc Dolan (Bruce Springsteen biographer), Annette Gordon-Reed (Thomas Jefferson scholar and author), Peter Onuf (Thomas Jefferson scholar and author), Paul Lukacs (ESPN historic uniform expert and blogger), Nate DiMeo (history podcaster), Tim Grove (museum educator at the Smithsonian), Sam Wineburg (historical thinking guru and education professor), Yoni Appelbaum (Bureau Chief at The Atlantic), and Jim Grossman (Executive Director–American Historical Association).  Our next episode will focus on the abolitionist movement and we will feature historian Manisha Sinha–stay tuned.

If you ARE familiar with The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast and you like what you hear, please give us a holiday gift by telling your friends, downloading episodes, and writing a review at ITUNES. We would really like to do a third season in 2017 and we can really use your support to make it happen.

And to all of our faithful listeners: THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT!


Liberty University in the #AgeofTrump


During the GOP presidential primary and caucus season Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Donald Trump.  There were plenty of candidates running for the GOP nomination who fit much better with the conservative evangelical identity of a place like Liberty University.  I am thinking here of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and perhaps even John Kasich.

Yet Falwell Jr. supported Trump.

What is perhaps most interesting about Falwell Jr.’s support of Trump was that it did not seem to be rooted in any kind of Christian political philosophy.  It seems that the main reason he supported Trump was because he was a good businessman and wanted to make America great again.

Unlike James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and other evangelicals who endorsed Trump because he would appoint the kind of Supreme Court justices that would deliver on longstanding Christian Right social issues, Falwell Jr. rarely framed his support around abortion or marriage. When Robert Jeffress was making a tortured biblical argument about the proper role of government, Falwell Jr. was talking about Trump’s leadership skills.

Granted, Falwell Jr. is not a theologian.  But he is the president of the largest Christian university in the world.  He could at least articulate a basic theological argument for why he thinks voting for Trump is the evangelical thing to do.  I am not asking that it be a good theological argument, but at least show his followers that he is making some effort to think Christianly about the election.

And now we come to Falwell’s recent decision to appoint disgraced former Baylor University athletic director Ian McCaw as the new Liberty University athletic director.  (We wrote about this earlier in the week, so I will not go into details.  Read more about it here). The New York Times has taken note of all of this in a story titled “At Liberty University, All Sins Are Forgiven on the Altar of Greed.”

Here is a taste:

The hiring of McCaw has also proved contentious. As the university’s Facebook page filled up with angry comments, Falwell felt compelled to offer explanations on the university’s website. He said Liberty had conducted an “investigation.” It found that McCaw was a fine man. Far from being pushed out of Baylor, Falwell said, McCaw’s “decision to resign was his own choice.”

“If he made any mistakes at Baylor,” Falwell said — let us pause here to appreciate his use of the conditional — “they appear to be technical and unintentional.” There is not an athletic director in America, Falwell added, who better understands the importance of complying with federal guidelines on reporting any sexual assault on a campus.

And thus tin is transmuted into gold.

Read the entire piece here.  The title of the Times piece really says it all.

Quote of the Day

From the editorial board of The New York Times:

The Carrier deal stands as an interesting argument against longstanding Republican economic orthodoxy.  In making the deal, Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence have embraced the idea that government does indeed have a role to play in the free market.  They intervened, and as a result, 800 people will keep their jobs.  If they applied the same interventionist approach to other labor issues–raising the minimum wage and expanding overtime pay come to mind–millions of working people might actually stand a chance.

Some Helpful Stuff on Trump’s Carrier Deal


Kudos to Donald Trump.  He negotiated and saved about 1000 jobs at the Carrier plant in Indiana this week.  Indeed, there will be 1000 people who will have a better Christmas because Trump did this.

But we historians have a nasty habit of understanding events like this in larger contexts. We tend to look for a bigger picture.  We think about the implications of political decisions and about cause and effect.  We take the long view.

One piece that has provided a start point for helping me understand the implications of Trump’s job saving efforts as Carrier is Matt Yglesias’s piece at Vox.

Here is a taste:

Now, the overall scale of this move relative to the size of the American economy is pathetic. In Indiana alone, there were 672,000 manufacturing jobs at the 1999 peak, falling to 425,000 in the summer of 2009 and bouncing back to 513,000 as of this fall. Which is just to say that broad Obama-era policies aimed at overall economic recovery have “brought back” almost 90 times as many jobs as are at stake in the Carrier deal. Getting all the way back to the Clinton-era peak would require Trump to pull off about 160 Carrier-scale moves in Indiana alone, to say nothing of the millions of manufacturing jobs in other states.

But the very small-scale nature of the Carrier situation is part of what makes it such appealing public relations. It’s true that something abstract like a 0.25 percentage point cut in the federal funds rate or a temporary partial suspension of the payroll tax would do a lot more to create jobs than jawboning a single company about a single factory. But Trump’s willingness to roll up his sleeves and get involved in the problems of one American community indicates an obsessive focus on boosting the fortunes of working-class Midwesterners — even as his administration’s big-picture policy focus remains on deregulating Wall Street, enacting an enormous tax cut for rich people, and slashing spending on assistance to the poor.

And this:

Trump has done a good job over the years of making his Twitter feed livelier and more exciting than Obama’s feed. But it’s still the case that allowing him to set the media agenda via Twitter is an enormous win for him. Very few people will be affected by the Carrier move — many fewer, for example, than the million or so people impacted by Obama’s leave for contractors initiative — whereas huge numbers of people will be affected by things Trump doesn’t like to tweet about, including rolling back Dodd-Frank and slashing taxes for millionaires.

Touring the country looking for factories to cheerlead or small interventions to help particular communities is a perfectly legitimate thing for a president to do. But a PR stunt is a PR stunt, not a major economic policy initiative.

If Trump actually does try to make this kind of stunt the centerpiece of his economic agenda, that will be a disaster. But the much more likely scenario is one in which he continues with his stated policy agenda of tax cuts and deregulation while using a handful of PR stunts to maintain an image as an champion of the working class. The big question is will he get away with it?

Read the entire piece here.