An Australian Christian Reflects on Religion and Politics in the United States

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A recent Washington Post op-ed by an Australian observer of the American religious scene should serve as a wake-up call to United States Christians. Michael Bird is a professing Christian and New Testament scholar at Ridley College in Parkville.   Here is a taste of his piece “Jesus isn’t interested in America’s two-party division“:

As a scholar of the New Testament and a professing Christian, I simply do not recognize the plethora of American “Jesuses” spawned by the political left and right. What I see is neither the Jesus of Nazareth I know from history nor the Christ of faith that I know from my church.

To begin with, I am not remotely convinced by the Jesus of American conservative culture. A Jesus who sounds like a deified version of Ronald Reagan. A Jesus who believes that God helps those who help themselves. A Jesus who rejects biological evolution but ostensibly believes in an economic contest of survival of the fittest.

Then, among progressives, their Jesus is often described in ways that would probably best fit the long-lost love child of Lenin and Lady Gaga who grew up to become an Antifa activist. The industry of progressive politics trades in a secular Jesus sanitized of anything that sounds too religious.

I understand that everyone wants Jesus on their political side. In fact, I find it heartening that Jesus is still the endorsement that everyone wants! But there are immense costs being paid when politicians and pundits claim Jesus for their own side.

The primary problem is, of course, the absurd anachronisms.

Read the entire piece here.

Can Democracy Survive Our Current Moment?

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What is causing our political polarization? Can democracy survive our current political climate? Atlantic senior editor Yoni Appelbaum joins others, such as Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (those who attended Levitsky’s recent lecture at Messiah College will find a lot that sounds familiar in Appelbaum’s argument), in suggesting that the GOP is having a hard time dealing with demographic change.  I made the same argument for white evangelicals in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and Robert Jones argues something similar in The End of White Christian America.

Appelbaum, however, has not given up hope.  He turns to history:

The right, and the country, can come back from this. Our history is rife with influential groups that, after discarding their commitment to democratic principles in an attempt to retain their grasp on power, lost their fight and then discovered they could thrive in the political order they had so feared. The Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, criminalizing criticism of their administration; Redemption-era Democrats stripped black voters of the franchise; and Progressive Republicans wrested municipal governance away from immigrant voters. Each rejected popular democracy out of fear that it would lose at the polls, and terror at what might then result. And in each case democracy eventually prevailed, without tragic effect on the losers. The American system works more often than it doesn’t.

The years around the First World War offer another example. A flood of immigrants, particularly from Eastern and Southern Europe, left many white Protestants feeling threatened. In rapid succession, the nation instituted Prohibition, in part to regulate the social habits of these new populations; staged the Palmer Raids, which rounded up thousands of political radicals and deported hundreds; saw the revival of the Ku Klux Klan as a national organization with millions of members, including tens of thousands who marched openly through Washington, D.C.; and passed new immigration laws, slamming shut the doors to the United States.

Under President Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic Party was at the forefront of this nativist backlash. Four years after Wilson left office, the party faced a battle between Wilson’s son-in-law and Al Smith—a New York Catholic of Irish, German, and Italian extraction who opposed Prohibition and denounced lynching—for the presidential nomination. The convention deadlocked for more than 100 ballots, ultimately settling on an obscure nominee. But in the next nominating fight, four years after that, Smith prevailed, shouldering aside the nativist forces within the party. He brought together newly enfranchised women and the ethnic voters of growing industrial cities. The Democrats lost the presidential race in 1928—but won the next five, in one of the most dominant runs in American political history. The most effective way to protect the things they cherished, Democratic politicians belatedly discovered, wasn’t by locking immigrants out of the party, but by inviting them in.

Whether the American political system today can endure without fracturing further, Daniel Ziblatt’s research suggests, may depend on the choices the center-right now makes. If the center-right decides to accept some electoral defeats and then seeks to gain adherents via argumentation and attraction—and, crucially, eschews making racial heritage its organizing principle—then the GOP can remain vibrant. Its fissures will heal and its prospects will improve, as did those of the Democratic Party in the 1920s, after Wilson. Democracy will be maintained. But if the center-right, surveying demographic upheaval and finding the prospect of electoral losses intolerable, casts its lot with Trumpism and a far right rooted in ethno-nationalism, then it is doomed to an ever smaller proportion of voters, and risks revisiting the ugliest chapters of our history.

Read the entire piece here.

Five Acts of Kindness in History that Give Me Hope

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Harriet Tubman

Hope seems like it is hard to come by these days.  But these five events, chronicled by the BBC, give us a little glimpse of what the coming Kingdom of God–a Christian’s ultimate hope–might look like.

 

  1. A letter saves Jane Austen’s life
  2. Miep Gies and associates hide Anne Frank’s family from Nazi persecution, 1942-1944
  3. Elizabeth Fry visits Newgate Gaol, 1813
  4. Harriet Tubman rescues at least 300 people from slavery, c1850-1861
  5. Luz Long advises Jesse Owens on his run-up, 1936

The BBC “History Extra” unpacks these five stories here.

Reenacting the 1811 German Coast Slave Uprising in Louisiana

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Check out Rick Rojas’s recent piece at The New York Times: “A Slave Rebellion Rises Again.”  Rojas covers the reenactment of an 1811 Louisiana slave rebellion know as the German Coast Uprising.

Rojas writes:

The 26-mile march, a re-enactment of the 1811 German Coast Uprising in southeast Louisiana, began Friday morning and will conclude Saturday. It was timed to the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans in Virginia, a moment that has ignited considerable reflection about the specter of slavery still hanging over the United States and the depths of its influence…

The performance was conceived, in part, to demonstrate how the ghosts of slavery have endured; the institution itself is gone, but the animosity and oppression have evolved and lingered. Staging a provocative revival of a violent rebellion, recounted in unsparing detail, stirred fears that the performance might turn into a very real confrontation.

Read the entire piece here.

Over at The New Republic, writer Nick Martin writes about the difficult work of diversifying historical reenactments.  Here is a taste:

Diversifying all forms of historical reenactment, whether an amateur showing, a school activity, or a professionally produced motion picture, is clearly a step in the right direction. That’s why communities of color have been focusing on this for decades: It’s a chance to render erased histories visible in a particularly physical way, taking up space the people in these histories have long been denied, and becoming a source of pride for communities of color. It’s hard to imagine any rational, good-faith objection to that: After all, white reenactors have been claiming for decades that education and pride in history is the whole point.

I am not a big fan of reenactments.  I don’t go to them. Reenactors think that history is all about authenticity–wearing the right number of buttons on a uniform or marching in a way that reflects the time period.  )Check out the late Tony Horwitz’s book Confederates in the Attic on this front). This approach to the past fails to let the past speak to the present and vice-versa.  Reenactments are antiquarianism, not history.  The doing of history requires an exploration of context, change over time, causation, contingency (which I guess could be captured in an reenactment as fans watch actors make choices), and complexity.

Yet reenactments, like historical movies or Broadway shows, do get people engaged with the past.  They have the potential to get observers to learn more about the past through reading or a visit to a historical museum that properly curates the past.

But the reenactment of the German Coast Uprising seems to be more of an example of reenactment as activism rather than reenactment as antiquarianism.  In other words, this seems to be something quite different from the traditional Civil War reenactment.  The goal is both understanding and social change.

Is Paula White Bringing Her “Ponzi Scheme” to the White House?

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Many of you recall that court evangelical and prosperity preacher Paula White is now working in the White House.  Learn more here.

Former George W. Bush Administration ethics lawyer Richard Painter suggests that White is using her new position in the White House to make her spiritual “sales pitch” to her television followers.

Here is Newsweek:

Richard W. Painter, who served as the chief ethics lawyer in President George W. Bush’s White House, blasted President Donald Trump’s personal spiritual adviser Paula White, suggesting the religious leader was committing “fraud” and running a “Ponzi scheme.”

The White House recently announced that White, who previously served as the senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Florida, would officially spearhead Trump’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative. Since taking on the official role, the prominent televangelist has continued to sell religious items that she claims will provide spiritual and material benefits to buyers.

“This ‘prosperity gospel’ scam by ⁦@Paula_White⁩ tests the boundaries between ‘religious freedom’ and criminal mail fraud and wire fraud,” Painter argued in a Wednesday morning tweet. “‘Send me money and God will make you rich.’ Now she uses her White House position to make her sales pitch.”

On Tuesday, Painter raised related concerns about White. “Paula White now is running her faith based Ponzi scheme from inside the White House,” he wrote in a tweet, sharing a link to a Newsweekarticle that reported on criticism of Trump’s adviser. ‘”Send me your January paycheck and God will pay you back with interest …. [perhaps out of somebody else’s February paycheck],'” he added.

Read the entire piece here.

News from the Conference on Faith and History!

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As Vice-President of the Conference on Faith and History, I want to share some news.

FIRST, WE HAVE 2020 CONFERENCE DATES!

The CFH Biennial Meeting will take place October 7-October 10 at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

The Program will again include a Student Research Conference preceding the meeting.

Lisa Clark Diller (Southern Adventist University) will be the program chair.

More information will be forthcoming.

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SECOND, join us in New York City in January for three Conference on Faith and History-sponsored panels at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.  They are:

Lament as a Historical Practice

Friday, January 3, 2020: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Sheraton New York, Sugar Hill
Chair: Jay Green, Covenant College

Papers:
Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July Speech and Lament in American History
Trisha D Posey, John Brown University
Justice Everywhere: The Prison to College Pipeline Program, Mass Incarceration, and Race Historical Continuity in Mississippi
Otis Pickett, Mississippi College
“How Long, O Lord?” A Historical Pedagogy of Lament
Timothy Fritz, Mount St. Mary’s University

Comment: The Audience

CFH Breakfast Reception

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
New York Hilton, Green Room

Educating for Activism? Historians and Politics in the Contemporary United States

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
New York Hilton, New York Room

Chair: Heath Carter, Princeton Theological Seminary

Speaker(s):
Beth Allison Barr, Baylor University
Cara Burnidge, University of Northern Iowa
Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Calvin College
Philipp Gollner, Goshen College
Luke E. Harlow, University of Tennessee at Knoxville
Kathryn Lofton, Yale University
Jemar Tisby, University of Mississippi

Comment: The Audience

What Is Race? Historical and Theological Retrieval in American Christianity

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
New York Hilton, New York Room

Chair: Rita Roberts, Scripps College

Papers:
Before Ontological Blackness: Race and the 18th-Century Black Calvinist Tradition
Steven Harris, Harvard University
“The Blood That Made America Great”: German Racial Thought in Southern Protestantism
Joel Iliff, Baylor University
Racism as Vice: Towards a Thomistic Account of an Ill-Defined Phenomenon
Nathan Cartagena, Wheaton College

Comment: The Audience

Wehner: Republicans are “Living Within the Lie”

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Conservative public intellectual Peter Wehner reflects on today’s impeachment hearings. Here is a taste of his piece at The Atlantic:

We are facing a profound political crisis. What the Republican Party is saying and signaling isn’t simply that rationality and truth are subordinate to partisanship; it is that they have to be obliterated for the sake of partisanship and the survival of the Trump presidency. As best I can tell, based on some fairly intense interactions with Trump supporters, there is no limiting principle—almost nothing he can do—that will forfeit their support. Members of Congress clearly believe Trump is all that stands between them and the loss of power, while many Trump voters believe the president is all that stands between them and national ruin. In either case, it has led them into the shadowlands.

For those of us who are still conservative and have devoted a large part of our lives to the Republican Party, it is quite painful  to watch all of this unfold. Perhaps too many of us were blind to things we should have seen, or perhaps the GOP is significantly different now that it was in the past, when it was led by estimable (if imperfect) individuals like Ronald Reagan. Whatever the case, we are where we are—in a very precarious and worrisome place.

You can be critical of the Democratic Party and believe, as I do, that it is becoming increasingly radicalized while also believing this: The Republican Party under Donald Trump is a party built largely on lies, and it is now maintained by politicians and supporters who are willing to “live within the lie,” to quote the great Czech dissident (and later president) Vaclav Havel. Many congressional Republicans privately admit this but, with very rare exceptions—Utah Senator Mitt Romney is the most conspicuous example—refuse to publicly acknowledge it.

“For what purpose?” they respond point-blank when asked why they don’t speak out with moral urgency against the president’s moral transgressions, his cruelty, his daily assault on reality, and his ongoing destruction of our civic and political culture. Trump is more powerful and more popular than they are, they will say, and they will be targeted by him and his supporters and perhaps even voted out of office.

The answer to them is that it is better to live within the truth than to live within a lie; that honor is better than dishonor; and that aiding and abetting a corrupt president implicates the aiders and abettors in the corruption.

Read the entire piece here.

Court Evangelicals Weigh-In on Today’s First Day of Impeachment Hearings

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Court evangelicals in the court

Several of the court evangelicals had things to say today (and in the last day or two) about impeachment.

Here is Franklin Graham:

This Paula White quote tells it all.  It is, in many ways, the essence of court evangelicalism and Trump evangelicalism generally.

Here is Ralph Reed:

Trump Campaign Manager: Adam Schiff is a “sick man”

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As some of you know, I am on Trump’s campaign mailing list.  (How did I get on this list? The answer lies in the strange intersection of a history conference, a Trump rally, and NPR).

Here is what I received today from campaign manager Brad Parscale:

Friend,

Adam Schiff is a liar who has lied to the American people time and time again to push his Fake Impeachment Witch Hunt.

He LIED to the American people when he said he had evidence that President Trump colluded with Russia.

He LIED when he made up a FAKE PHONE CALL, that he said President Trump had with Ukraine.

Now he is LYING to the American people once again to push yet ANOTHER bogus Impeachment Witch Hunt. Did he even read the transcript? He’s a sick man.

It’s up to YOU to defend President Trump and hold corrupt LIARS like Adam Schiff accountable.

I have a meeting with President Trump soon to update him on our goal of raising $3 MILLION in 24 hours. I want to make sure I can show him your name on the list of donors I share with him.

A Thoughtful Piece on the Meaning of “Evangelical”

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Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri

Jason Byasse‘s piece at Religion News Service gives me hope.  The theologian visited a few evangelical congregations in the Midwest and writes about what he found.

Here is a taste:

But on a visit to several evangelical churches in the heart of Red America not long ago, I found hope to think “evangelical” can mean something else instead.

In St. Joseph, Missouri, in the far west of the Show-Me state, where even Democrats tout their gun-packing bona fides, I visited the Word of Life Church. Pastor Brian Zahnd was once a charismatic TV preacher, but he’s much more Mennonite now, learning from historic peace-loving communities that peacemaking is better than televangelism. On Twitter, Zahnd seeks to disentangle evangelicalism from President Trump. “I don’t believe in conservativism; I don’t believe in progressivism. I believe in Jesus,” he wrote in one post.

The Sunday I was there, I saw him preaching with great ’60’s rock songs as his texts. The sermon that day was on Cat Stephens’ “Ride the Peace Train.” This is no hippie lullaby, he said, it’s a non-violent revolution, prophesied by Isaiah and inaugurated by Jesus.

Now whatever that is, it’s not Trumpism.

Read the entire piece here.

Trumps Critics are “Satanic” and Other Evangelical Craziness on the Eve of Impeachment Hearings.

 

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Two books on evangelicals and Trump on the shelf at Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI

Newsweek is calling attention to a televangelist named Irvin Baxter who believes that Donald Trump is the only thing standing in the way of the coming of the Antichrist.  Anyone who does not support Trump is working for Satan.

Here is a taste:

 

Evangelical pastor Irvin Baxter, a televangelist who is the founder and president of Endtime Ministries, said Donald Trump’s critics are “satanic” while claiming that Satan was angry that the president is “messing up” his goal of creating a unified global government.

Baxter, who hosts a nationally syndicated biblical prophecy program on TV, End of the Age, made the remarks during Monday’s Jim Bakker Show, as first reported by Right Wing Watch. He argued that Trump is hated because he stands in opposition to a “satanic” plot that has been in the works for 100 years to create a world government system.

“All of a sudden this guy by the name of Trump comes along,” Baxter said. “He starts campaigning against their globalistic system. The first thing he did was pull us out of the Paris climate change accord, which was—.” The evangelical leader was then cut off, as the studio audience erupted in applause.

Read the rest here.

Meanwhile, court evangelical Steven Strang, the author of God and Donald Trump, has a new book coming out describing the 2020 election as “spiritual warfare” and claiming that “satanic schemes are so brazen on key issues that the book was written to explain what’s at stake.”  Strang is the CEO of Charisma magazine.  I wrote about him in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Learn more about Strang and his new book at Right Wing Watch.

Anti-Trump Books are Mysteriously Disappearing from an Idaho Public Library

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Coeur d’Alene Public Library, Coeur d’Alene Iowa

No word on whether or not Believe Me is one of the books missing.

Here is The New York Times:

From her office next to the public computer terminals, Bette Ammon finds herself peering through a window to watch patrons moving through the Coeur d’Alene library’s nonfiction stacks.

Someone has been hiding books lately — specifically, those that explore politics through a progressive lens, or criticize President Trump. They wind up misfiled in out-of-the-way corners where readers will be sure not to find them.

“I am going to continue hiding these books in the most obscure places I can find to keep this propaganda out of the hands of young minds,” the mystery book relocator wrote in a note left for Ms. Ammon, the library director, in the facility’s comment box. “Your liberal angst gives me great pleasure.”

For decades, Coeur d’Alene has navigated a delicate political landscape in northern Idaho, a conservative corner of the country where some have sought refuge from political and social changes elsewhere.

The incidents over this past year — including a missing book that was discovered only this week — were not the first time books have mysteriously disappeared. Thirty years ago, the library lost so many books on human rights to theft that they had to be placed in a locked cabinet. The latest works to be targeted cover a wide range of topics, from gun control and women’s suffrage to LGBTQ issues and how people of color fare in the criminal justice system. About half the books specifically deal with President Trump.

While none of the books in the latest incidents appear to have been stolen, some have been hidden in ways that made it nearly impossible to find them when patrons wanted to check them out. They have been discovered inexplicably filed in the wrong sections, hidden behind a row of Stuart Woods novels, or shelved with the spine facing inward.

Read the rest here.

Out of the Zoo: Hamilton’s Deathbed Conversion

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Alexander Hamilton’s grave in Trinity Church Cemetery.

Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie writes about her paper on Alexander Hamilton’s religious faith. –JF

My “Age of Hamilton” class is well into its second act. After taking a couple weeks to discuss the musical Hamilton, we took a deep dive into the life of America’s 10-dollar founding father. We started off the semester discussing Hamilton’s childhood in the West Indies and his education in New Jersey and New York. Next we paraded through the Revolutionary war alongside Alexander.  Then we discussed his contributions to the Constitution—at the Constitutional Convention and through the 51 Federalist papers that he wrote. At long last we’ve reached what seems to be the pinnacle of the course—Hamilton’s stint as the first secretary of the treasury—and soon enough we will come to Weehawken New Jersey, the stage of his fatal duel with Aaron Burr.

As “Age of Hamilton” reaches its close in the next month or so, my classmates and I will be striving to finish our lengthy research papers for the course. As we scramble to gather sources and organize our thoughts for the assignment, we surely have gained a new understanding of the question Hamilton repeatedly poses: “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” Nonetheless, our minds are “at work” as we seek to flesh out various aspects of Alexander Hamilton’s life.

As you can imagine, the topics my classmates and I are pursuing for this assignment are quite diverse. My friend Chloe is researching Hamilton’s relationship with fellow revolutionary John Laurens. Another fellow history major is writing on Hamilton’s role in the Battle of Monmouth. My roommate Rachel is learning about 18th-century courtship for her paper, and several more classmates are researching the Reynolds Affair. While all of these potential topics intrigued me, I decided to take the semester to inquire into Alexander Hamilton’s religious faith.

My paper thus far is centered around Hamilton’s “deathbed conversion,” an event which, even after hours of research, still fascinates me. I’ve recently discovered that a large portion of Hamilton’s career was characterized by the apparent absence of religious devotion. Yet, at the end of his life, after a fatal shot through the abdomen from the pistol of Aaron Burr, Hamilton asked multiple times to receive communion from his deathbed. Hamilton first requested the sacraments from Episcopal bishop Reverend Benjamin Moore, who denied Hamilton’s wishes because he did not condone the practice of dueling.  Hamilton then turned to Presbyterian minister John Mason, who, like Moore, also refused. After some time though, Reverend Moore returned to Hamilton’s bedside and obliged to administer communion.

As I worked on this project over the weekend, I’ve realized there is still much work to do. I’ve researched and written some about Hamilton’s exposure to religion throughout his life, and have continued my inquiry into his “deathbed conversion.” Yet, at this point I am left with more questions than answers. What did Hamilton really believe about God? Why were the sacraments so important to him that he still desired them even after being turned down twice? Where will Hamilton spend eternity? Surely not all of these questions belong in my paper, but my research has led me to ask them nonetheless. As I seek solutions to some of these questions, I’m starting to realize that most will not be so easily answered. Some people living today cannot even articulate what they believe about God; therefore it’s no easy task to do the same for someone who died over 200 years ago. Thus, I will try my best to tread carefully, to keep my eyes open, and to do justice to the complexity that defined every aspect of Hamilton’s life, religious and otherwise.

Kanye is Coming to See Joel Osteen on Sunday

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We are learning more about the direction that Kanye West‘s newfound Christian faith is taking him.  He will be at prosperity preacher Joel Osteen’s church this Sunday.

Here is the Houston Chronicle:

Kanye West will attend service at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church on Sunday, Donald Iloff, Jr., a representative for the church confirmed.

West is scheduled to have a 15-to-20-minute conversation with Osteen at the 11 a.m. service.

“Joel is still putting his questions together, but he will talk about Kanye’s journey to his faith,” Iloff said.

Kanye will take to the pulpit a second time Sunday, according to Iloff , to perform with his choir at the 7 p.m. service.

We haven’t covered Kanye’s conversion here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home and I am not planning on spending too much time on it.  Those interested should start with Curtis Lee’s piece at Christianity Today and the Religion News Service archive of Kanye stories.

Happy 50th Sesame Street!

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Today I was at my local public television/public radio station doing some media with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and took advantage of a photo-op with Big Bird.

I know I am a few days late here, but I needed to do a post in honor of the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street.  The show premiered on November 10, 1969.  I don’t know if I watched that first episode, but I am pretty sure I started watching the show at some point during the first season on Channel 13 (WNET)

I grew up with Gordon, Susan, Mr. Hooper, Bob, Maria, Luis and, of course, Jim Henson’s Muppets.  I then watched thirty years later as my kids got to know some of these same characters in addition to new residents of the neighborhood including Alan, Gabriela, and Gina.  Here is a song from 1998 that brings back memories because I remember watching it (and later singing it) with my daughter Ally:

Why Have So Many U.S. Senators Been Silent on Impeachment?

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Perhaps Lindsey Graham should think about keeping his mouth shut on impeachment

While people like Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Senator who seems to have lost his moral compass after the death of John McCain, runs his mouth off about impeachment, other Senators remain quiet.  Some have even taken a “vow of silence.”  As Texas A&M law professor Lynne Rambo notes at The Conversation, such a vow of silence is appropriate.  In an impeachment trial, the Senate serves as the jury.  And who wants members of jury going public with their thoughts about the trial?  Here is a taste of her piece:

 

Several Republican senators have taken a “vow of silence” on the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives.

Maine Senator Susan Collins has described her position this way: “I am very likely to be a juror so to make a predetermined decision on whether to convict a president of the United States does not fulfill one’s constitutional responsibilities.”

From a purely political standpoint, the senators’ choice is beneficial for both parties. The senators cannot find it easy to speak approvingly of the president’s opportunistic conduct with foreign countries, so silence is probably the most graceful position for the Republican Party.

The silence is also helpful from the Democratic Party’s perspective. Democrats would no doubt prefer that the senators just abandon Trump immediately, but that seems unlikely to happen. The silence at least preserves the possibility that they will convict Trump if and when the time comes.

That said, there is nothing requiring the senators to remain silent on the issues. No written law or rule instructs senators to take that approach. The Senate’s Rules on Impeachment Trials do not address pretrial conduct at all.

The senators’ choice seems to stem instead from a decision to treat the impeachment proceeding much like a judicial trial. As a professor of Constitutional law, I find that analogy quite apt.

Read the entire piece here.

Where is Governor Livingston?

Liberty Hall Kean

William Livingston’s Liberty Hall

New Jersey’s revolutionary-era governor William Livingston was constantly on the run during the war.  Here, for example, is historian James Gigantino on Livingston during the British occupation of New Jersey in 1776:

Livingston’s whereabouts from mid-December to early January remain unknown; not known even if he remained alive, John Hancock addressed a late December letter to “Governor Livingston or the present Executive power in New Jersey.”

Livingston managed to survive several assassination plots. His home in Elizabeth-Town (Liberty Hall) was damaged by the British. And he was forced to move his family back and forth between Liberty Hall and Parsippany.

Here is Gigantino again:

Livingston had good reason to request personal protection.  British troops attacked Elizabethtown in February 1779 with the intention of capturing or assassinating him at Liberty Hall.  Finding only his wife and daughters, they hoped to seize the governor’s papers, but the quick-witted Livingston women instead proffered a pile of old law papers and correspondence from a recently captured British ship….Apparently , the governor agreed that a strong “conspiracy against me” had formed in Essex [County, New Jersey].  After the summer of 1779 and until the end of the war, he never returned for significant periods to Liberty Hall.  He believed that both he and his wife had to accept the inevitability that the British would burn their home and that the couple should “prepare ourselves to bear it with Christian fortitude.”

This is the context for understanding a letter that I read over the weekend.  A twenty-six-year-old British spy (and a former member of the Elizabeth-Town militia) named John Cunningham wrote the February 26, 1780 letter to William Tryon, the loyalist governor of New York.  It contained intelligence on the Continental Army.  Here is a relevant taste:

The Assembly is now sitting in Mount Holly in West Jersey. It is hard to say where Governor Livingston is to be found….In general the old County man may be said to be disgusted…They openly say the country has been cheated by the cry of Liberty, and that it is all a Delusion….Dr. Witherspoon is turned out the Congress–Mr. Livingston the state Governor less and less tolerated. He is called Cruel and miserly & cowardly both by Whigs and Tories. He is universally spurned at for dodging up and down the Country and shunning his own house where he leaves one of his daughters almost always alone.

According to Cunningham, things were not going very well in New Jersey in the winter of 1780.  Earlier in the letter he discusses the dire conditions among the Continental Army at Morristown and notes that the people of Morristown are tired of having the army in town.

Source: (CO 5/1110 The British Nation Archives, Adam Matthew Database).

Is There Such a Thing as an Ordinary Impeachment?

Trump on mall

Andrew Sullivan’s recent piece at New York Magazine is titled “This is No Ordinary Impeachment.”  I actually like the piece, but I wonder if there was ever an “ordinary” impeachment in American history. After all, it has only happened twice (almost three times if you consider Nixon).

While you are thinking about that, here is a taste of Sullivan’s piece:

This is not just an impeachment. It’s the endgame for Trump’s relentless assault on the institutions, norms, and practices of America’s liberal democracy for the past three years. It’s also a deeper reckoning. It’s about whether the legitimacy of our entire system can last much longer without this man being removed from office.

I’m talking about what political scientists call “regime cleavage” — a decline in democratic life so severe the country’s very institutions could lose legitimacy as a result of it. It is described by one political scientist as follows: “a division within the population marked by conflict about the foundations of the governing system itself — in the American case, our constitutional democracy. In societies facing a regime cleavage, a growing number of citizens and officials believe that norms, institutions, and laws may be ignored, subverted, or replaced.” A full-on regime cleavage is, indeed, an extinction-level event for our liberal democratic system. And it is one precipitated by the man who is supposed to be the guardian of that system, the president.

Let us count the ways in which Trump has attacked and undermined the core legitimacy of our democracy. He is the only candidate in American history who refused to say that he would abide by the results of the vote. Even after winning the 2016 election, he still claimed that “millions” of voters — undocumented aliens — perpetrated massive electoral fraud in the last election, and voted for his opponent. He has repeatedly and publicly toyed with the idea that he could violate the 22nd Amendment, and get elected for three terms, or more.

Read the rest here.

Religious Historian Michael McClymond on Christian Universalism

Universalist

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, Indiana (Wikimedia Commons)

St. Louis University religious historian Michael McLymond recently published a two-volume, 1376 page history of Christian universalism with Baker Academic titled The Devil’s Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism.  I have learned a great deal from McClymond’s previous books on Jonathan Edwards and American revivalism, but I am afraid I will not get around to reading this one despite my interest in the subject.  The book is too long and too expensive ($90.00).  Perhaps one day I will find an affordable used copy and add it to my library for reference purposes.

I am thus glad that McClymond has summarized some of his findings in a recent piece at First Things titled “Opiate of the Theologians.”  Here is a taste:

Today’s universalist theology immanen­tizes Christian knowing by diminishing the eschatological tension between the now and the not yet. The Apostle Paul wrote that we know in part and see through a glass darkly. Hart labors under no such limitations: He fully knows the eschaton, transparently perceives it, and declares with assurance what will certainly happen. Hart thus affirms a total luminosity of human eschatological understanding, banishing all shadows of doubt regarding God’s future ways and works. This trait marks Hart not as Catholic or Orthodox but as an Enlightenment thinker. Apophatic reserve evaporates.

How differently the Church’s acknowledged mystics approached the theme of heaven and hell. According to Denys Turner and Bernard McGinn, ­Julian of Norwich has been often, but wrongly, read as a universalist. Interpreted in the context of her other statements, Julian’s famous phrase that “all shall be well” did not mean that “all shall be saved,” but instead it was her affirmation of the ultimate rightness of God’s ways. It was a statement made in faith, shot through with epistemic and eschatological tension, since she did not presume to be able to state exactly how it is that finally “all shall be well.”

To observe the link between universalism and rationalism, one only needs to consider the developments of the last two or three centuries. The theological devolution of modern universalism into Unitarianism was not an accident. Once human reasoning had deconstructed the divine mysteries of election and eschaton, it applied its tender mercies to the Trinity and Incarnation as well. ­Unitarian-universalist rationalism spread like a virus, infecting the sinus, the lungs, the circulatory system, and then the whole body of Christian theology. No election, no hell, no atonement, no divine Son, no divine Spirit, and no Trinity—all that remained was moral uplift and human solidarity, or, as one wit put it, the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, and the Neighborhood of Boston. As one saying went, the universalists thought God was too good to damn them, while the unitarians thought they were too good to be damned. Here was an early version of the religion of humanity: deity and humanity reconstructed on a model of total divine-human and human-human solidarity, minus the mystery of the Incarnation.

Read the entire piece here.