The Tradition Continues at First Baptist Dallas

Freedom Sunday

The congregation and the choir waved American flags.  Many of the worshipers wore red, white, and blue.  They sung the Star Spangled Banner.  There were fireworks.  People were raising their hands, like they do in evangelical worship.  The pastor read a letter from the Vice President of the United States and then said “aren’t you glad we have a man like this standing behind our great president Donald Trump.”

Yes, all of this happened yesterday at Robert Jeffress’s First Baptist Church in Dallas.  It was “Freedom Sunday” and the service was devoted to “patriotic worship” and a sermon titled “America is a Christian Nation.”

First, a quick word about “patriotic worship.”  I don’t think such a thing is possible in the Christian tradition.

Webster defines “worship” as a verb that means “to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power.”

Webster defines “patriotic” as “inspired by patriotism.”  It defines “patriotism” as a “love for or devotion to one’s country.”

By these definitions, “patriotic worship” is to show honor, reverence, or devotion to one’s country as one might show honor or reverence to a divine being or supernatural power.

Since Christians only worship the God of the Old and New Testament, then “patriotic worship” has to be a form of idolatry.

OK, now on to the sermon.

Robert Jeffress rattled off a lot of quotes and facts about the relationship between religion and the founding.  Many of them were not true.  For example, Jeffress’s echoed GOP activist David Barton when he claimed that 52 of the 55 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were “orthodox Conservative Christians.”

Some of the things he said were true, but they were taken out of context.

At other times, Jeffress argued that the founders were Christians based on their vague references to God.  For example, one could believe in “providence” and still reject the idea that God incarnated Himself in the form of man, died on a cross, and rose from the dead to save sinful humans.

Jeffress ended the sermon by connecting the removal of prayer and Bible reading from public schools to the rise in divorce rates, illegitimate births, low SAT scores, teenage suicides, violent crimes, binge drinking, gun violence, and abortion rates.  (For the record, abortion rates dropped considerably during the Obama administration).

The sermon ended with an altar call.  Jeffress asked people to come forward to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior.  In the context of the service and the sermon, it was unclear if Jeffress was calling them forward to accept Jesus or accept the idea that the United States was a Christian nation.  Maybe both.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I have two major problems with “Freedom Sunday” as it was conducted at First Baptist Church-Dallas.  (Yes–I watched the service).

  1. It is idolatrous to worship anything other than God during a Sunday morning Christian service
  2. Jeffress does not know how to handle historical evidence.  He takes things out of context and fails to acknowledge change over time.  Yet, he builds his entire cultural war political agenda, which he gladly shares from his Christian pulpit, on such a faulty historical framework.

I am not going to go any further here since I have written about this kind of thing many times before..  Instead, I will recommend some resources:

John Fea, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction

John Fea, Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  This book provides a more thorough debunking of Jeffress’s sermon based on its 2017 iteration.

And this post:  What Was Being Worshiped Yesterday at First Baptist Church in Dallas?

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Hipster nostalgia

Well-behaved women and history

Vote Against Prohibition

Michael Kazin reviews Patricia O’Toole, The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made

10 stories on immigration under Trump

5 types of summer vacations

Should we give Trump his wall?

Could Southern Baptists become feminists?

The Trump administration and the Heritage Foundation

Is the Republic Party worth fighting for?

Atticus Finch

The Massachusetts Circular Letter of 1768

Are we living in a pivotal moment for American Protestantism?

Charleston, SC apologizes for its role in the slave trade

The moderate founding fathers

Christian

*Salon* Reviews *Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump*

Believe Me BannerI am grateful to Salon for publishing Paul Rosenberg’s lengthy review of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Here is a taste:

Fea’s first chapter is especially riveting for the light it sheds on how evangelicals came to support Trump when they had so many other superficially better-looking options to choose from. He argues convincingly that other GOP candidates did a superior job of courting evangelical voters by traditional means, after eight years of Obama had brought more change than they could handle — Marco Rubio with an impressive advisory council, Mike Huckabee with a track record and issue positions, Ben Carson with an appealing personal story, but most of all Ted Cruz, who “turned fear-mongering into an art form,” which should have trumped everyone else, especially given his father’s history as a popular apocalyptic preacher.

But collectively, Fea writes, they succeeded too well.

Between the summer of 2015 and start of the primary season in early 2016, they were able to diagnose the crisis that the United States was facing in a way that brought great anxiety and concern to American evangelicals. But their strategy backfired. … The evangelical candidates stoked fears of a world they seemed unfit to train. Desperate times call for a strongman, and if a strongman was needed, only Donald Trump would fit the bill.

 

It’s a powerful, convincing explanation — though incomplete, as I’ll return to below. But Fea is not content just reflecting on what has been. “I want to explore alternatives to the fear, the search for power, and in nostalgia,” Fea writes. “How do we reconcile the white evangelical politics of fear with the scriptural command to ‘fear not’?”  he asks.

“What would it take to replace fear with Christian hope?” The answer he at least prepares the way for comes from an unlikely source — the black church, as reflected in the history, spirit, and legacy of the civil rights movement, which he turns to in the book’s concluding chapter. They model a contrasting triad of hope, humility and history that Fea highlights as providing a powerful alternative model, a road not taken by white evangelicals.

But because the preceding five chapters have been so insular, concerned with the white evangelical world, this solution has the feeling of deus ex machina. Fea himself provides no model for what it might mean or how it might work, until his seemingly belated epiphany. It’s an effective cri de coeur, though as serious sociological and theological critique, much less so. 

Read the entire review here.

My Piece at *The Atlantic*: “Evangelical Fear Elected Trump”

Trump court evangelicals

This piece draws from Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, but it also include material that is not in the book.

A taste:

White conservative evangelicals in America are anxious people. I know because I am one.

Our sense of fear, perhaps more than any other factor, explains why evangelicals voted in such large numbers for Donald Trump in 2016 and continue to support his presidency.

 

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson once wrote, “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” The great poet of the Jersey shore, Bruce Springsteen, sings, “Fear’s a dangerous thing. It can turn your heart black you can trust. It can take a God-filled soul, and turn it to devils and dust.”

Scholars Respond to Trump’s Border Policy

immigrants

The Chronicle of Higher Education is running a piece on the way scholars stepped-up to the plate during the “Trump border crackdown.”  I am glad that The Chronicle is noticing our work.  Here is a taste of Mark Parry’s article:

…In recent weeks, seemingly every Trump immigration move has prompted a real-time counter-mobilization of academic research, either by scholars themselves or by journalists calling on their expertise.

You see that in John Fea and Yoni Appelbaum’s breakdowns of how a biblical passage cited by the attorney general was used by defenders of slavery. You see it in Aliza Luft and Daniel Solomon’s analysis of Trump’s animalizing rhetoric. You see it in the debate over whether it’s fair to call America’s migrant detention centers concentration camps. (The answer, say two experts, is a qualified yes.)

For some scholars, research that had percolated for years suddenly carries an immediate resonance. On Monday, for example, the political scientists Emily M. Farris and Heather Silber Mohamed published a journal article documenting how news outlets stoke fear of Latino immigrants through imagery depicting them as criminals. Farris drew on her research in a Twitter thread contrasting two images that have shaped the family-separation narrative: the photo of a little girl crying as a border agent frisks her mother, and a picture released by the Trump administration of faceless boys in detention.

“We should think about how those images play a role in who we think is deserving of our concern,” Farris, an assistant professor at Texas Christian University, said in an interview. She added, “Images are powerful, and we don’t necessarily think about them as mediums for the ways we can interpret different policies.”

In interviews with The Chronicle, other historians and political scientists emphasized a dilemma of engaging this debate: how to raise alarms about the potential for human-rights abuses while conveying a nuanced understanding of a fast-changing situation. (Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday intended to stop family separations. It remained unclear on Friday how relatives would be reunited.)

The academics’ challenge is complicated by a paradox of scholarly communication right now. Thanks to social media and the proliferation of outlets like Vox and Monkey Cage, scholars are mixing it up in public like never before. But some scholars are frustrated that academe’s fact-backed warnings don’t penetrate to policy makers or large swaths of the public. Their struggle: getting readers to consider their evidence without dismissing them as Ivory Tower elites yet again denouncing Trump.

Read the entire piece here.

Jeff Sessions Defends His Use of Romans 13

jeff-sessions

Context: I have commented on Sessions’ use of Romans 13 in several posts here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  I also contributed to Washington Post and New York Times stories on this.

Recently Session talked with David Brody at Christian Broadcasting Network.  Here is a taste:

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed some of the criticism he and the White House have received in recent weeks regarding the administration’s immigration policy in an exclusive interview Thursday with CBN News.

Sessions was personally criticized when he quoted scripture to justify separating families at the southern border, something CBN’s David Brody asked him about.

“I don’t think it was an extreme position that I took,” said Sessions. “I directed it not to say that religion requires these laws on immigration. I just simply said to my Christian friends, ‘You know, the United States has laws and I believe that Paul was clear in Romans that we should try to follow the laws of government of which we are a part.'”

Sessions alluded to the Bible again when he discussed the morality of immigration law.

“I believe, strongly, that it is moral, decent and just for a nation to have a lawful system of immigration,” Sessions said. “I’m not aware of a single nation in the world that doesn’t have some sort of rules about who can enter and who cannot enter. I believe there is biblical support for that, too.”

Sessions told Brody that all of the criticism has not gone unfelt, especially the criticism coming from his Christian brothers and sisters.

Read the rest here.

John Wilson Reviews *Believe Me* in the *Hedgehog Review*

Believe Me 3dI cannot read the entire review because it is behind the Hedgehog Review paywall, but if Wilson wrote it, I am sure it is a fair review.  John has told me that he disagrees with some of my take on Trump, so I am eager to see what he wrote.

Here is a taste:

We hear a great deal of huffing and puffing about the gap between academic history and the general reader. But we don’t hear enough about the first-rate historians who work in various ways in their various spheres to bridge that gap: figures as wide-ranging as Danielle Allen, Eleanor Parker, Tom Holland, and Kevin Kruse, to name a few.

Any adequate account of such bridge builders must include John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College who is best known for his book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? “I have long defined myself as a ‘public historian,’ but not in the traditional way that the academy defines public historian,” Fea explained in a recent lecture. “I do not work in a museum or historical society. I teach American history to undergraduates. But having said that, I have worked hard at trying to bring history to bear on public life—to bridge the gap between academic history and public history and to introduce historical interpretation to the public in a way that is accessible and easy to digest. I have tried to do this through my books, my daily blog, my podcast, and, of course, in the classroom. This is my so-called platform.”

The latest product of this desire “to bring history to bear on public life” is Fea’s sardonically titled book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Here, Fea reports on the “court evangelicals” (a memorable phrase he put in circulation) who have given their uncritical support to Trump in exchange for access to the throne and the opportunity, so they suppose, to advance their Christian agenda. To what precise extent their endorsement contributed to the notorious 81 percent of white evangelicals who voted for Trump, we can’t be sure, but certainly they represent at least three significant factions within the vast, unruly evangelical constituency: in Fea’s reckoning, “the new old Christian Right,” which harks back to the heyday of the Moral Majority; followers of the “prosperity gospel”; and the “Independent Network Charismatics,” a movement made up of loosely affiliated groups that operate outside traditional denominational and parachurch settings, with an emphasis on charismatic gifts, “spiritual warfare,” and the need for Christians to occupy critically influential positions in American society.

By providing a lucid narrative of the rise of the court evangelicals, their fawning pronouncements, and their self-contradictions (e.g., character mattered mightily during the Clinton presidency; now it can be brushed aside), Fea has performed a great service. For brazen effrontery, it’s hard to top Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University. As Fea relates, when presidential candidate Trump was visiting the Liberty campus on Martin Luther King Day 2016, “Falwell Jr. pointed out” that Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., and Trump “all were persecuted for their ‘radical’ and ‘politically incorrect’ ideas.”

So how did it happen that so many evangelicals, of all people, should vote for a candidate who is manifestly unfit to be president of the United States? For many longtime critics of all things evangelical, the overwhelming support for Trump wasn’t a surprise at all: It merely confirmed their judgment of a fatally flawed movement: hypocritical, intolerant, and deeply infected by white supremacy. (In this view, Trump is the evangelical id, unleashed.) Fea himself takes a slightly different angle, noting that he was initially shocked as well as deeply dismayed by the “large number of my fellow evangelicals” who voted for Trump. Yet, he goes on to say, as time passed, “my distress did not wane, but my surprise did. As a historian studying religion and politics, I should have seen this coming.”

Don’t Forget the *Believe Me* Book Tour

Believe Me Banner

We are still adding dates.  Let me know if you are interested in hosting.  I am happy to answer any questions you might have.

June 30, 2018
Midtown Scholar Bookstore, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 6pm
Book Launch for Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 7, 2018
Politics & Prose Bookstore, Washington D.C. 7:00pm
Book TalkBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 10, 2018
Penguin Bookshop. Sewickley, PA, 7:00pm
Book TalkBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 11, 2018
The Book Loft. Columbus, OH, 7:00pm
Book TalkBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 12, 2018
Carmichael’s Bookstore (Frankfort Ave Store), Louisville, KY, 7:00pm
Book TalkBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 13, 2018
Taylor Books, Charleston, WV, 6:00pm
Book TalkBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 14, 2018
Givens Books, Lynchburg, VA, 6:00pm
Book TalkBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 15, 2018
Quail Ridge Books. Raleigh, NC, 2:00pm
Book TalkBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 16, 2018
Winchester Book Gallery.  Winchester, VA.  6:00pm
Book TalkBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 28, 2018
Chop Suey Books. Richmond, VA.  7:00pm
Book Talk: Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 29, 2018
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Richmond, VA, 9:00am
Book Talk in Faith Formation Class: Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

September 24, 2018
University of Chicago Seminary Co-Op Bookstore. Chicago, IL, 6pm
Book Talk: Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

September 25, 2018
Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, IN 6:30pm
Lecture: “The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump”

October 2, 2018
Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids, MI, 11:30am
Lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 2, 2018
Taylor University, Upland, IN, 7:30pm
Lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 3, 2018
Hope College, Holland, MI, 7:00pm
Lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 11, 2018
Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas
Public lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 17-18, 2018
John Brown University, Siloam Springs, Arkansas
Public lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

November 13-15, 2018
Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Denver, CO
Session on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

The “Trump of Pahrump”

Dennis-Hof-4

This is what you get in an age of Donald Trump.  Some evangelical Christians are supporting Dennis Hof’s candidacy for state assembly in Nevada.

Here is a taste of Tim Reid’s piece at Reuters:

PAHRUMP, Nev. (Reuters) – He styles himself as America’s best-known pimp, a strip-club owner who runs multiple brothels and looks set to win a seat as a Republican in the Nevada legislature with the blessing of many conservative Christian voters.

Meet Dennis Hof, whose political rise reflects fundamental changes in electoral norms that have roiled the Republican Party and upended American politics during the era of President Donald Trump.

“This really is the Trump movement,” Hof, 71, told Reuters in an interview at Moonlite BunnyRanch, his brothel near Carson City in northern Nevada that was featured on the HBO reality television series “Cathouse.”

“People will set aside for a moment their moral beliefs, their religious beliefs, to get somebody that is honest in office,” he said. “Trump is the trailblazer, he is the Christopher Columbus of honest politics.”

When news broke that Hof had won the nominating contest for a state Assembly seat on June 12, evangelical pastor Victor Fuentes said he closed his eyes and prayed.

He did not ask God to deliver Nevada and the Republican Party from Hof, the thrice-divorced author of “The Art of the Pimp” who campaigned as the “Trump of Pahrump.” Although Christian groups have long rallied against the state’s legal brothel industry, Fuentes was willing to overlook Hof’s history as a champion of the flesh trade and gave thanks for his victory.

“People want to know how an evangelical can support a self-proclaimed pimp,” Fuentes said in an interview at his home in Pahrump, an unincorporated town of 36,000 people that is the largest community in the sprawling, rural district where Hof is favored to win in November’s general election.

He said the reason was simple. “We have politicians, they might speak good words, not sleep with prostitutes, be a good neighbor. But by their decisions, they have evil in their heart. Dennis Hof is not like that.”

The pastor said he felt Hof would protect religious rights, among other things.

Read the rest here.

Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

  1. First Baptist Dallas “Christian America” Billboard Comes Down
  2. “The Fear Sweepstakes”
  3. Robert Jeffress Rallies the Faithful for His Sermon “America is a Christian Nation”
  4. “Trump…is the logical conclusion of a conservative evangelicalism that is built on a foundation of sand”
  5. The Bible and Anti-Immigration
  6. My Latest Piece at Religion News Service: “Why aren’t most of Trump’s ‘court evangelicals’ publicly condemning his border policy?”
  7. Newt Gingrich Wants to Send Me a Copy of His New Book
  8. Some Court Evangelicals Break Ranks on Trump’s Immigration Policy
  9. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is Removed from Public Ministry
  10. Jeff Sessions and Romans 13

 

My Latest Piece at *Sojourners*: Pence’s Visit to the Southern Baptist Convention

mike-pence-twopng-974b71b39bfd3b4f (1)

Here is a taste:

In the last several months, the #MeToo movement has found its way to one of the largest Protestant denominations in America — the Southern Baptist Convention. While this year’s annual meeting did address issues related to Paige Patterson, the former SBC Theological Seminary president, and how women are treated in the church, the SBC leadership also decided to welcome Mike Pence, who represents a presidential administration with a long track record of degrading women in public, to their meeting. 

In May, over 3000 SBC women sent an open letter to the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary demanding the firing of Paige Patterson.

As one of the primary architects of the denomination’s “conservative resurgence” in the 1980s, Patterson is a living legend in the SBC. But over the course of the last few months, the world that Paige Patterson created collapsed around him. 

Patterson’s indiscretions are now widely known. He made inappropriate comments about teenage girls, he told a female victim of sexual assault not to report the incident to the police, and in 2015, when a Southwestern student told Patterson that she had been raped, he said he would meet with the student alone, so he could “break her down.”

The Board of Trustees at Southwestern eventually removed Patterson from his post. He is now gone, but the problem of authoritarian and misogynistic Southern Baptist leaders remains. The Patterson case exposed the dark side of the SBC and its conservative resurgence, prompting one seminary president to declare that the “wrath of God” is now being poured out on the convention. 

Read the rest here.