A couple of clarifications as we enter post-Trump America

First, several critics are suggesting that I and other evangelical never-Trumpers are now “Biden court evangelicals.” Those who are making this claim do not understand how I have used the word during the last four years. I have reserved the phrase “court evangelical” for those evangelical Christians who served as “advisers” to Trump. These Christian leaders took every opportunity to visit the White House for the purpose of flattering Trump, taking pictures with the president that they could share with their followers, and giving the president “advice” on the Supreme Court, abortion, religious liberty and Israel.

Trump liked to keep these evangelicals close. He needed their votes to maintain power. In the end, it was all for naught. Joe Biden roundly defeated Trump in the 2020 election. I will be watching how close some evangelicals to stay to Trump now that he is out of power.

These court evangelicals were representative of a larger pattern of evangelical politics that privileges fear over hope, power over humility, and nostalgia over history.

So far I have not found any Biden court evangelicals. As for me, I have never been to the White House. Nor has anyone has asked me to serve in any way as a religious adviser to the Biden administration. If they asked, I would decline.

Second, I am seeing a lot of people on social media in the last twenty-four hours making what I call “moral equivalency” arguments. These arguments assume that Biden and Trump should be evaluated on the same terms. They want us to criticize Biden to the same degree we criticized Trump.

I will criticize Biden when I believe his policies or rhetoric is bad for the country. But I do not see Biden and Trump as equals. Trump was an aberration. He lied endlessly. His words incited violence. He was morally corrupt. He was incompetent and knew nothing about how to lead. For four years he used our country as his own personal reality show. He showed no regard for American institutions.

I don’t agree with all of Biden’s policies, but at least he is playing on the field of American democracy. Trump was not playing on this field. He was not even in the stadium. Remember, we are not comparing Joe Biden with Republicans like Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley, John Kasich, Mitch McConnell, Ben Sasse, Larry Hogan, or Chris Christie. We are comparing Joe Biden to a narcissistic maniac who somehow managed to win the White House in 2016 with the help of American evangelicals.

What should we make of Trump’s 1776 Commission Report? Part 4

Read previous installments in this series here.

Part Four of the 1776 Commission Report covers what it calls’ “Challenges to America’s Principles.”

Slavery is identified as one of these “challenges.” At this point in our series it is important to remember that the 1776 Commission was formed as a reaction to the 1619 Project, a series of New York Times essays that makes slavery central to the American founding. We have had a lot of things to say about the 1619 Project here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. You can read all our posts on the topic here.

Here is the 1776 Commission Report:

The most common charge levelled against the founders, and hence against our country itself, is that they were hypocrites who didn’t believe in their stated principles, and therefore the country they built rests on a lie. This charge is untrue, and has done enormous damage, especially in recent years, with a devastating effect on our civic unity and social fabric.

The statement then goes out of its way to take the founders off the hook for owning slaves. It fails to mention that the South’s wealth was generated by slave labor or that systemic racism permeated the South during the colonial era and early republic. The statement fails to mention that the failure of the founders to do anything to stop this institution allowed racism and white supremacy to gain a foothold in the United States. Over time these injustices became deeply embedded in American institutions and American culture. The Civil War ended slavery in America, but anyone who studies Reconstruction knows that the Union victory over the Confederacy did very little to rid the country of racism. None of this is acknowledged in the report. In fact, it skips from “slavery” to “progressivism” without saying anything about the failure of Reconstruction. (It does mention Reconstruction in the section on “Racism and Identity Politics”).

The founding fathers (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and others) may have freed their slaves or tried to stop slavery from spreading outside the South, but in 1776 and again in 1787 they made a decision to privilege national unity over ending this institution. In other words, they chose compromise over moral conviction. Some of the founders fought hard to keep slavery in the South. Others quietly sat by and let it happen. The 1776 Commission Report seems to subordinate the lives of millions of enslaved Africans to the project of nation-building, or what it calls “a question of practical politics.” Were these men products of their times? Of course they were. But I don’t believe this gets them off the hook. Let’s remember that there were anti-slavery voices in late 18th-century America. The founders just chose to ignore them. Let’s not pretend that future generations, even after the Civil War, had to deal with the consequences of this choice. In history class we call this contingency.

Some have argued that the founding ideals, such as the belief that “all men are created equal,” eventually led to the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, the Northern victory in the Civil War, and the civil rights movement’s challenge to Jim Crow. (On Tuesday in my American Revolution course we are reading Gordon Wood’s famous “radicalism” argument). The 1776 Commission Report seems to be echoing this view when it notes that “the foundation of our Republic planted the seeds of the death of slavery in America.” This is true. And as we noted in an earlier post in this series, American reform movements drew heavily upon these founding ideals.

But the 1776 Commission Report fails to realize that on matters of race the damage was done well before the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. By allowing slavery to flourish for so long, the founders and their immediate descendants contributed immensely to the racism and racial divisions we see today. One cannot end slavery and expect that two centuries of injustice will just go away. One cannot end slavery and then expect the culture of racism that defined every day life in America prior to the 13th Amendment to just disappear. Racism was embedded in American culture for decades upon decades prior to the Civil War. It will thus take decades upon decades for Americans to rip it out.

As I have noted before at this blog, the 1619 Project has some historical problems. Its claims are too bold. But I am thankful to the project for at least calling our attention to the fact that the racial issues we face in the United States today are rooted in systemic injustices woven deeply into the fabric of American society and culture.

There is a lot more to say about this, but I think I will stop there for today. With the start of the new semester, I don’t think I will try to cover much more of the historical content in the 1776 Commission Report. Perhaps if the 1776 Commission Report gets some traction in the school boards of conservative states I will revisit it. But I do want to comment on the prescriptive calls for “national renewal” at the end of the document. Stay tuned.

David French wonders where “the South ends and Christianity begins.” Some history will help those wondering the same thing

Here is French at The Dispatch:

There’s an enormous amount of literature describing shame/honor culture in the South and shame/honor culture generally, but I like this succinct description from David Brooks:

In a guilt culture you know you are good or bad by what your conscience feels. In a shame culture you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors or excludes you. In a guilt culture people sometimes feel they do bad things; in a shame culture social exclusion makes people feel they are bad.

Shame/honor cultures are very focused on group reputation and group identity. Again, here’s Brooks:

People are extremely anxious that their group might be condemned or denigrated. They demand instant respect and recognition for their group. They feel some moral wrong has been perpetrated when their group has been disrespected, and react with the most violent intensity.

Brooks was writing about the general growth of shame culture in America, including in left-wing circles on campus. But doesn’t this sound familiar on the right? Have you noticed how much of the GOP, the party of white Evangelicals, is often positively obsessed with grievance, how it marinates in anger at the insults of the “elite” or the “ruling class”?

We experience this reality constantly. It sometimes appears as if the bulk of the conservative media economy is built around finding and highlighting leftist insults, leftist disrespect, and leftist contempt. And yes, it exists, but there is a difference between highlighting a problem and marinating in grievance over the rejection of the left.

This has old, old roots. In his book Desire, Violence, and Divinity in Modern Southern Fiction, Kent State professor Gary Ciuba writes that “honor meant that southerners beheld themselves as others beheld them,” and that meant that “their self-worth lived in the look of the other.”

French asks an important question. Where does the South end and Christianity begin? Historians have wrestled with this question for decades. If you want to dig deeper, I encourage these books:

Christine Heyrman, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt. (I haven’t taught this book in a while, but it used to be a staple of my course on the early American republic).

Bertram Wyatt Brown, Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South

Craig Thompson, ed., Southern Manhood: Perspectives on Masculinity in the Old South

Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in the Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause

Paul Harvey, Redeeming the South: Religious Cultures and Racial Identities Among Southern Baptists

Paul Harvey, Freedom’s Coming: Religious Culture and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Era

Ted Ownby, Subduing Satan: Religion, Recreation and Manhood in the Rural South

Daniel Stowell, Rebuilding Zion: The Religious Reconstruction of the South

James Bennett, Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans

Robert Elder, The Sacred Mirror: Evangelicalism, Honor, and Identity in the Deep South

I am sure I missed others. Feel free to add more at Facebook and on Twitter and I will try to add them to this list.

Spring 2021 will bring big changes at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. We would love your support!

Some things are changing in America. Other things are staying the same. And we at The Way of Improvement Leads Home will continue to chronicle this moment in our history and offer useful historically-informed commentary. We always need good American history, but we need it more than ever in times of great social and political change.

In April 2021, we will be announcing some major changes to our platform. (Teaser: “The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog and podcast are not going away). Our supporters will learn about these changes very soon in a patron-only announcement at our Patreon site.

The transition will require a stronger support base. When I started The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I told myself I would never clutter the site with ads. I also wanted to remain independent, so I have regularly turned down invitations to join larger blogging network that pay bloggers. Instead, I decided to help fund our work through Patreon.

So if you have benefited from our writing and podcasts over the years, please consider becoming a supporter through Patreon. Click here to get started. You can support us for as little as $1 a month.

And yes, mugs and signed books are still available for patrons!

And for our loyal patrons: THANK YOU for your ongoing support!

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. On the day of Biden’s inauguration, Trump evangelical John MacArthur tweets that the U.S. is officially “one nation in rebellion to God”
  2. What should we make of Trump’s 1776 Commission Report? Part 1
  3. Why Dave Ramsey and his financial advice empire is an embarrassment to evangelical Christianity
  4. New video: January 6 insurrectionists pray in the Senate chamber
  5. What should we make of Trump’s 1776 Commission Report? Part 2
  6. The last night of Trump court evangelicalism
  7. Court evangelical: Kamala Harris has a “Jezebel spirit” and is a satanic “chameleon” secretly working as an “Obama surrogate”
  8. Charismatic prophets at war
  9. Obama’s 2006 speech on religion and public life is worth reading amid our current moment
  10. The court evangelicals love Martin Luther King Jr. (and other stuff)

A scholar of the Independent Network Charismatic movement explains its role in the Trump presidency

Last week I wrote a post on the Independence Network Charismatic movement (INC). The piece relied heavily on what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump which, in turn, relied heavily on the work of Richard Floury and Brad Christerson in The Rise of Network Christianity: How Independent Leaders Are Changing the Religious Landscape.

Last night I came across a Christerson op-ed explaining the links between INC prophets and the January 6, 2021 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. Here is a taste of the piece from The Conversation published at the Pennsylvania Capital Star:

A key part of the Jericho March events has been a group of INC Christians who claim to be modern-day “prophets,” including Lance WallnauCindy Jacobs and Jonathan Cahn. Charismatic Christianity, similar to Pentecostal Christianity, emphasizes the “gifts of the Holy Spirit,” which include healing, exorcism, speaking in spiritual languages, and prophecy – defined as hearing direct words from God that reveal his plans for the future and directions for his people to follow.

Scholars use the term Charismatic to describe Christians in mainline or independent churches that emphasize the gifts of the spirit as opposed to Pentecostal Christians, who are affiliated with official Pentecostal denominations. Independent Charismatic Christians tend to be more unorthodox in their practices, as they are less tied to formal organizations.

In our research, we found that in most Charismatic churches, those who receive visions or direct words from God that make predictions that later correspond to events or have uncanny insights into people’s lives are seen to have the “gift of prophecy.” Some particularly gifted “prophets” are seen as being able to predict world events and get directions from God regarding entire nations.

While most Charismatic churches do not engage in this world-event predicting type of prophecy, some independent, high-profile leaders that do have become increasingly important in INC Christianity.

Read the entire piece here.

What should we make of Trump’s 1776 Commission Report? Part 3

Read previous installments in this series here.

It is now difficult to find the 1776 Commission Report, but I managed to locate a copy in the Internet Archive.

The authors begin with the Articles of Confederation. The report teaches a “critical period” approach to the 1780s, arguing that “American statesmen and citizens alike concluded that the Articles were too weak to fulfill a government’s core functions.” What this view of the Constitution of the United States fails to mention is that the 1787 document was barely ratified in some states because so many “statesmen and citizens”–Patrick Henry, Luther Martin, Samuel Adams, George Mason, Richard Henry Lee, James Monroe, Mercy Otis Warren, and George Clinton, to name a few–were relatively happy under the Articles of Confederation and worried that the Constitution took too much power away from the states. American historians talk about these debates and differences with their students when they teach the 1780s. They provide students with primary sources to evaluate both sides of an issue so that they can detect bias and understand ideas in larger contexts. They ask questions like: “Whose critical period?”

In fact, I think the entire 1776 Commission might be a valuable resource in the history classroom. I would use it alongside the 1619 Project or Howard Zinn’s People’s History to help students see how the past can be marshalled toward political ends.

Good history teachers understand the complexity of the past. For example, the 1776 Commission Report insists that there is a direct link between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It fails to mention that many ordinary men and women believed that the Constitution curbed their liberties and squashed some of the democratic practices of the states during the 1780s. Many believed that Madison’s “large republics” would weaken their political voice. The Electoral College filtered the voice of the people. As we saw in 2016, it is possible for a presidential candidate to win the votes of the people and still lose a presidential election. There were people in the eighteenth century who worried about this possibility.

So what were the links between the Declaration of Independence and Constitution? This question would make for a wonderful pedagogical exercise. Instead, this document offers only one side. In the end, it does the exact same thing the conservative authors of the document accuse those on the left of doing.

Finally, the 1776 Commission’s section on the Constitution says nothing about the debates over slavery at the Constitutional Convention. It says nothing about the three-fifths compromise. The paragraphs on the Bill of Rights focuses almost entirely on religious liberty and the right to bear arms.

Today Inside Higher Ed has a piece on the 1776 Commission and its connection to conservative Hillsdale College.

I also learned today that South Dakota pro-Trump governor Kristi Noem is asking for nearly $1 million to revamp the teaching of social studies in her state so that students learn “why the U.S. is the most special nation in the history of the world.” We will have to see if the 1776 Commission Report will play a role in Noem’s plans. Whatever happens, the history wars will continue.

On the day of Biden’s inauguration, Trump evangelical John MacArthur tweets that the U.S. is officially “one nation in rebellion to God”

The Biden administration is here. What are the last president’s most loyal evangelicals saying about the inauguration?

John MacArthur, the pastor of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, fired the first shot:

I will just let this one sit for a while…

Eric Metaxas did not do a live show today.

The Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, the center of Trump evangelicalism, thanked Donald Trump:

And then the Liberty’s Falkirk Center offered a backhanded offer of prayer to Joe Biden:

Charlie Kirk, the co-founder of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, just couldn’t take a day off from his vitriol:

Liberty University Falkirk Center fellow Jenna Ellis was in rare form today:

I am guessing that Jenna Ellis believes she spent the last several months doing the “will of God” as Trump’s “election fraud” lawyer:

This one is rich:

God and country. Christian nationalism at its worst:

Ellis retweeted the aforementioned John MacArthur tweet about the kingdom of darkness.

I don’t have time tonight to process Lance Wallnau’s latest one hour reflection about whether the prophets got it right or wrong, but it is here if you want to see it.

Christian Broadcasting Network journalist David Brody liked Biden’s speech, to a point:

I don’t remember Richard Land praying to support Donald Trump “when we can do without violating our consciences”:

I hope Land is right about this. As a never-Trumper, praying for Trump was hard. It’s not going to be easy for conservative evangelicals to pray for this president.

On his Facebook page, Jack Hibbs concludes that Biden’s decision to change the U.S. Ambassador to Israel into the “U.S. Ambassador to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza “insults the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Jim Garlow is still holding his election integrity prayer meetings. Here is Garlow at his Facebook page:

Today was painful. To watch a nation take gigantic steps toward self destruction was overwhelming. The undoing of wonderful prolife policies (as one example) of President Trump by Biden is heartbreaking and will result in even more deaths. Then to watch some “evangelicals” and people from the “holiness movement” (not sure how much “holiness” has survived…and not sure if it is a “movement” anymore) falling all over themselves in delight, ushering in a man who is ….how do I say this respectfully? ….who is, at best, mentally challenged (I think he should be cared for medically & helped; do you REALLY believe this man can handle the world’s most difficult job??), it has been a challenging day. 74,000,000 of us love our country too much to see it end.

And here is Garlow reflecting on his court evangelicalism:

APPROXIMATELY NOON EASTERN TIME – JAN 20, 2021 – I will forever be grateful for the wonderful privilege of serving on (1) the Trump Faith Advisory Board during the 2016 election, (2) the White House Faith Leaders during much of Mr. Trump’s presidency, and (3) as a Stakeholder with Evangelicals for Trump during the 2020 election. It was one of the great honors of my life. The two pictures were sent to me on Election day, November 3, 2020, taken at the same moment – from opposite angles – by two different friends. I did not know these pictures existed until I received them two months ago.

Here is one of the aforementioned pictures of Garlow in the court:

Robert Jeffress had a word or two at Fox News:

Ralph Reed is already spinning the pro-Trump legacy narrative:

Johnnie Moore wished Biden well:

Gary Bauer thanks Trump, says nothing about Biden:

Tony Perkins give an unqualified call to pray for Biden:

Jack Graham also offers an unqualified offer of prayer:

The same goes for Jentezen Franklin:

Franklin Graham:

Joe Biden is the 46th President of the United States

It’s official. The Trump presidency is over. The Biden presidency is here. Here are a few thoughts, with the help of my Twitter feed, on today’s inauguration ceremony:

I began the day with a reminder. It’s been a long four years chronicling Trump and the evangelical response to his presidency. Thanks for joining me on the journey:

There were some snow flurries today in Washington D.C. Perhaps Minnesota Senator Klobuchar, who was one of the major organizers of the ceremony, brought the flurries with her:

Did you notice Biden’s massive Bible?

Bernie seemed to be enjoying himself:

So was Biden’s Secretary of Treasury nominee Janet Yellen:

Lady Gaga was amazing. Since I tweeted this I have learned that the bird on her outfit was actually a dove carrying a olive branch.

The first Latina swears-in the first female, African American, and South Asian-American vice president:

My friend Scott Hancock tweeted seconds after Harris was sworn-in:

Biden was inaugurated at 11:48 AM EST. Twelve minutes too early:

Echoes of Langston Hughes:

What a difference four years make:

This was telling:

Biden comes into office after four years of lies:

Biden quoted St. Augustine:

Presidential historian Jon Meacham, who helped to write Biden’s speech, has been using this Augustine quote for several years:

“For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” This has a ring of Reagan’s “morning in America“:

Biden asked for a moment of silent prayer for COVID-19 victims:

Apparently this is not the first prayer in a presidential inaugural address.

Here is Eisenhower in 1953:

What shall be our legacy?

What will our children say?

Let them say of me I was one who believed

In sharing the blessings

I received

Let me know in my hear

tWhen my days are through

America

America

I gave my best to you

Hope over fear. I’ve heard that before:

A general take on Biden’s speech:

Poet Amanda Gordon stole the show:

Then Missouri senator Roy Blunt came back on stage:

Inauguration days are days for civil religion:

I finished it this afternoon. Also got in that nap:

Biden was ready to go on day 1:

What should we make of Trump’s 1776 Commission Report? Part 2

Read the entire series here. As I type, I am learning that Joe Biden will rescind the 1776 commission today. But I will go ahead with my analysis since I imagine that states with conservative governors or legislators may try to adopt this report as part of their social studies curriculums.

Today we move to Part 2 of Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission Report: “The Meaning of the Declaration.”

The first paragraph reads: “The United States is in most respects a nation like any other.” I think this is true in a number of ways. I affirmed this belief, with several important limitations, in the foreword to John Wilsey’s American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion. But the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence did not make the the United States exceptional.

Then comes this line: “And, although a relatively young country, its people have shared a common struggle and achievement, from carving communities out of a vast, untamed wilderness, to winning independence and forming a new government, through wars, industrialization, waves of immigration, technological progress, and political change.”

I could say several things about the Whiggish nature of this sentence, but let me call your attention to the reference to the “untamed wilderness.” The assumption here is that Native Americans did not exist or that they were frontier savages who needed to be civilized by Western values. It ignores decades of scholarship in Native American history that treats Indians as human beings with dignity who often resisted white men and women “carving” out communities on their land. This statement in the report also reflects the spirit of Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis, a view of the West that celebrates rugged white individualism and triumph. Historians of the West and Native American history debunked the Turner thesis decades ago.

The reference to America as a “republic” is accurate, although I am not sure why a reference to the United States as “republic” is included in a section on the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration is not a plan of government nor does it say anything about republicanism.

And speaking of “republicanism,” this is a political theory closely connected to the eighteenth-century understand of virtue. Republics survive when citizens act virtuously, or will sacrifice their interests for the greater good of the community. Such a reference is ironic coming from a commission appointed by one of the most narcissistic, self-interested presidents in American history. As I type, my mind turns to COVID-19 and all the so-called “patriots” who refused to wear masks to protect their neighbors because they believed mask-wearing undermines their God-given rights. If you are looking for the founding rhetoric of “republicanism” look no further than some of Barack Obama’s speeches.

And now onto the limits of American exceptionalism. This report fails to recognize the deeply British roots of the American Revolution. It assumes that the values in the Declaration of Independence, and the ideals for which the Revolution was fought, was somehow uniquely American. In fact, if the colonies were not so deeply embedded in British ideals about liberty there would be no revolution. There is nothing new about the ideas of the Declaration of Independence. They are merely a reflection of what all British people had believed about liberty since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 or perhaps as far back as the Magna Carta. The report ignores this long history of British liberty, preferring instead to focus on the “divine right of Kings.”

It is worth noting again that none of the authors of this report are American historians. The report reads like it was written by conservative political theorists. It assumes that the Declaration of Independence was written to set forth ideals that would govern the country. Historian David Armitage has argued convincingly that the Declaration was written primarily as a document asserting American political sovereignty in the hopes that the newly created United States would secure a place in the international community of nations. In fact, Armitage asserts, the Declaration was discussed abroad more than it was at home. This meant that the Declaration was “decidedly un-revolutionary. It would affirm the maxims of European statecraft, not affront them.” To put this differently, the “self-evident truths” and “unalienable rights” of the Declaration’s second paragraph would not have been particularly new or groundbreaking in the context of the eighteenth-century British world. These were ideals that all members of the British Empire valued regardless of whether they supported or opposed the American Revolution. The writers of the Declaration of Independence and the members of the Second Continental Congress who endorsed and signed it did not believe that they were advancing, as historian Pauline Maier has put it, “a classic statement of American political principles.” This was a foreign policy document.

The writers of the Declaration viewed the document this way. In an 1825 letter to fellow Virginia Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson explained his motivation behind writing it:

when forced, therefore, to resort to arms for redress, an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our jurisdiction. This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles or new arguments, never before thought of. . . but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take.

John Adams, writing five years after he signed it, called the Declaration “that memorable Act by which [the United States] assumed an equal Station among the nations.” Adams’s son, John Quincy, though not a participant in the Continental Congress, described the Declaration as “merely an occasional state paper. It was a solemn exposition to the world, of the causes which had compelled the people of a small portion of the British empire, to cast off their allegiance and renounce the protection of the British king: and to dissolve their social connection with the British people.” There is little in these statements to suggest that the Declaration of Independence was anything other than an announcement to the world that the former British colonies were now free and independent states and thus deserved a place in the international order of nations.

If anyone took the Declaration seriously as a model for government, it was the thirteen new states who saw the document’s claims to equality as a model for creating very democratic governments. Some of these state democratic governments, such as the one drafted for the new state of Pennsylvania, were so serious about equality and God-given rights that they allowed free Blacks and non-landholders to vote. Many of the future framers of the Constitution were so worried about these democratic governments, and were so convinced that the people could not govern themselves without checks from wealthy and educated from men, that they decided to frame the U.S. Constitution in 1787 as a way of curbing such populist democracy.

If the original intent of the writers of the Declaration of Independence was to affirm American statehood to the world, then at what point did this revered document become, in the minds of Americans, a statement of individual or human rights, as the authors of 1776 Commission describe it? Indeed, as Abraham Lincoln put it, “The assertion that ‘all men are created equal’ was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration, not for that, but for our future use.” Lincoln was a revisionist. He found the Declaration useful for reasons that were not primarily intended by its writers. Americans like Lincoln took a document that was originally addressed to the world as a “declaration of independence” and turned it into a document that would come to represent American ideals and values related to individual rights. Armitage writes:

this effort of domestication would have two equal and opposite effects: first, it would hide from Americans the original meaning of the Declaration as an international, and even a global document; second, it would ensure that within the United States only proponents of slavery, supporters of Southern secession, and anti-individualist critics of rights talk would be able to recall that original meaning.

In the hands of abolitionists, women’s suffragists, and especially Lincoln, the Declaration became “American Scripture.” The abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison appealed to the Declaration’s assertion that “all men are created equal” in his defense of the immediate emancipation of slaves. The Seneca Falls convention of 1848 used it to proclaim the rights of women. And Lincoln, in the opening lines of the Gettysburg Address (“four score and seven years ago”) made a direct connection between the Union cause in the Civil War and the Declaration of Independence. These American reformers were in search of a usable past–an interpretation of the American founding that they could employ to promote human rights and equality in their nineteenth-century settings. The original intent of the Declaration was not as useful as the famed second paragraph asserting the “self-evident” truth that people were created equal and possessed certain unalienable rights.

This is how American historians think about the Declaration of Independence. This is how good history teachers teach the Declaration of Independence.

Note: Much of this post draws heavily from my work in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

Update (12:47pm): Someone tweeted this. It is the page where the 1776 Commission was once published.

The last night of Trump court evangelicalism

Southern Baptist leader Richard Land once boasted that evangelicals had “unprecedented access” to the Donald Trump presidency. I hope he and the rest of the evangelicals enjoyed it.

The court evangelicals got their Supreme Court justices and some executive orders on religious liberty that will be quickly overturned by Joe Biden. They taught their followers to privilege a politics of fear over a politics of hope, a politics of power over a politics of humility, and a politics of nostalgia over a politics informed by good American history. In exchange, they will be forever connected to a president who demonized his enemies, lied incessantly, engaged in endless acts of narcissism, separated immigrant children from families, got impeached twice, enlisted foreign officials to help his re-election campaign, said there were good people on “both sides” during a white supremacy invasion of Charlottesville, refused to contribute to an orderly transition of power, incited an insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, tried to end the Affordable Care Act, promoted conspiracy theories about election fraud and raised money on them, ignored racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s death, alienated our global allies and made us a laughingstock in the world, benefited financially from the office of president, failed to lead the country through the worst pandemic in American history, and pardoned criminals.

Far too many evangelicals became Trump’s useful idiots.

Just for the record, my lists of court evangelicals includes: Franklin Graham, James Robison, James Dobson, Jentezen Franklin, Jack Graham, Chris Hedges, Alveda King, Paula White, Greg Laurie, John Hagee, Tony “Mulligan” Perkins, Gary Bauer, Johnnie Moore, Ralph Reed, Robert Jeffress, Jack Hibbs, Eric Metaxas, Jim Garlow, Guillermo Maldano, Tom Mullins, Alberto Delgado, David Barton (honorary “historian”), Harry Jackson (deceased), Jay Strack, Luke Barnett, Richard Land, Samuel Rodriguez, David Brody (honorary court evangelical journalist), Charlie Kirk, Lance Wallnau, Jenna Ellis, and Jerry Falwell Jr., and Mike Evans. I am sure that there are more, but these are the men and women who I have been covering for the last four years.

So let’s see how the court evangelicals are finishing-up their term:

Yesterday, You Tube removed Eric Metaxas’s interview with Mike “My Pillow Guy” Lindell. Today he reminds his audience that Kohl’s and Bed, Bath and Beyond have removed Lindell’s products from their stores. Metaxas tells his listeners not to shop at these big box stores and is outraged that these companies are “canceling” Lindell, a man who is just “trying to do what is right.”

Metaxas goes down swinging. He starts his show today by saying, “tomorrow morning people are getting prepared for the inauguration of someone that millions of Americans don’t think actually won the election.” He compares our current moment to the evils of communism in the former Soviet Union and Cuba and the horrors of the Holocaust. He suggests that Fox News is now parroting the “party line,” which he defines as both the Mitch McConnell “party line” and the Chinese communist “party line.” He implies that his beliefs about election fraud come from Independent Network Charismatic prophets such as Dutch Sheets.

Metaxas laments the fact that “old family friends” recently e-mailed him to tell him that they can no longer remain friends with him. He asks his listeners to pray for him so that God would protect him from the “wicked cancel culture” of the Democratic Party, which he compares to Hitler and the Nazis. In the process, he plugs his new memoir at least three times.

Metaxas then says that he punched a protester in Washington D.C. last summer “in self-defense.” And he claims that he was being metaphorical when he said he would fight the election results “until the last drop of blood.” From now on, Metaxas tells his audience, he “will be more careful about how he speaks” because people on the Left twist his words. Actually, Metaxas needs to be more careful about how he speaks because there are many Trump supporters who take him seriously and literally.

Tonight Metaxas is speaking at Liberty University. It is a Falkirk Center-sponsored event called Courageous Pastors. I do not see any masks in this picture:

For a little more than a year, the Falkirk Center at Liberty University, founded by the former Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr. and Trump wonder-boy Charlie Kirk, has become the center of pro-Trump evangelicalism. Apparently, they now have a magazine (booklet?) with short culture-war pieces written by Metaxas, Jenna Ellis, John MacArthur, and others Falkirk Center “fellows.” They are calling it a “journal.” In an article titled “Why I’m Proud to Keep My Business in America,” entrepreneur and Falkirk fellow Erika Frantzve writes:

God is sovereign, and even though things right now aren’t necessarily good, God will work all things together for good for “those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” As an entrepreneur, I know there is an opportunity to be found in the middle of adversity. The “Made in the USA” label is the new quality standard. It is not a compromise–it is an investment in our citizens, our freedoms, and our country’s future.

What?

And I am still trying to figure out this line from Falkirk Center fellow and Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis in a piece titled “Why is Truth?: Standing for Truth in a Relative Culture”:

Why is truth? Why does truth exist? Logically, truth is self-existent. Any other conclusion is self-defeating. If it can be said with absolute certainty that truth is relative, then such reasoning has logically defeated itself. Biblically, truth is self-existent because it is God’s nature and character.

Between November 3 and January 6 Jenna Ellis fought to disenfranchise millions of Black voters. Today she retweets Sarah Huckabee Sanders on racism:

Jack Hibbs is hosting Charlie Kirk at his church. Hibbs is also joining the boycott of Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Kohl’s after these big box stores dumped the My Pillow Guy.

Johnnie Moore got his embassy. I guess the court evangelicals are now one step closer to the Second Coming.

And if I am not mistaken, Moore removed the phrase “modern day Dietrich Bonheoffer” from his biography! Only regular readers of this series over the last four years will understand why I pointed this out. This blog is making an impact! 🙂

Gary “think of the children” Bauer believes the guardsmen in Washington D.C. are there to “shut down” free speech. Here is what he wrote today on Facebook:

The incursion into the Capitol Building two weeks ago was awful. It was wrong. The people responsible not only smeared all those who came to Washington to demonstrate peacefully, but they empowered the left to cast aspersions on all 75 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump and Mike Pence.But I also don’t like what I am seeing in the nation’s capital today. While every inauguration is a high security event, at least 25,000 troops have been deployed to Washington, D.C., with the explanation being the fear of violence. But what they have effectively done is to shut down free speech and the right of assembly. Washington, D.C., looks like an occupied war zone. Entire blocks of the capital have been locked down and closed off. Just two areas, limited to 100 people, have been designated as “First Amendment zones,” an Orwellian term if there ever was one.

Perkins is still talking about Russian collusion. He can’t stop fighting the culture war.

Franklin Graham is calling for peace:

A Confederate flag in the building built by slaves

Felicia Bell is a historian at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. In her recent piece at The Washington Post she reminds us about the people who labored to build the U.S. Capitol. Here is a taste of her piece, “Enslaved Black craftsman helped build the U.S. Capitol that a mob fueled by racist rhetoric stormed“:

I stood in my living room motionless and stunned Jan. 6 as I watched an attempted coup happening in real time. Raging insurrectionists fueled by racist rhetoric and conspiracy theories had besieged and forced their way into the U.S. Capitol, intent on disrupting and halting a fundamental democratic process: the peaceful transfer of power. Their perceived loss of privilege and political power sparked violence that would result in the deaths of six people, including two U.S. Capitol Police officers.

I’d begun that morning with joy when I learned of the Rev. Raphael Warnock’s historic win as the first Black senator from my home state of Georgia. However, upon hearing about the events taking place at the Capitol, all I could feel was dismay. This was not only an attack on democracy, but a violation of where democracy lives.

My joy gave way to disgust when I saw the unruly mob scaling the walls of the Capitol to implement their seditious act on Congress. My thoughts turned to the historical significance of the building and those who helped build it. The walls they were climbing, upon which they would unfurl their insurrectionist banners, were originally made of sandstone built by enslaved craftsmen.

Enslaved and free Black craftsmen were a critical labor force used by the U.S. government, as authorized by President George Washington, to build the Capitol. The commissioners of the District of Columbia were assigned by the executive branch to oversee the Capitol construction project. Although their records indicate the number of enslaved craftsmen fluctuated over years, it climbed into the hundreds: “We believe more than 800 mechanics and Labourers [sic] employed on public and private account in improving the City.”

Read the rest here.

Why Dave Ramsey and his financial advice empire is an embarrassment to evangelical Christianity

I am just getting around to this story.

David Ramsey is the CEO of Ramsey Solutions, an organization that “provides biblically based, common-sense education and empowerment that give hope to everyone in every walk of life.” Evangelical readers might be familiar with Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University.”

Readers of this blog may remember these stories:

Last week Bob Smietana, the award-winning editor-in-chief of Religion News Service, wrote a revealing piece about what has been happening lately at Ramsey Solutions In his article “Is Dave Ramsey’s empire the ‘best place to work in America’? Say no and you’re out, Smietana reported that Ramsey Solutions is a “cultlike environment where leaders proclaim their love for staff and then fire people at a moment’s notice.” In July, Ramsey screamed at his staff after a woman sued Ramsey for firing her for having premarital sex. In another incident, the company vetted a potential employee’s spouse to make sure he was not “married to crazy.”

Due to COVID-19, Ramsey Solutions was closed from March 20 to May 4. On April 20, Heather Fulk wrote what she thought was an innocuous private Facebook post complaining that her husband’s company (she did not mention Ramsey Solutions) was bringing employees back to the office “when a majority can do their work from home.” The post got her husband fired.

Read Smeitana’s the entire piece here.

On the same day that Smietana’s story appeared, Religion News Service also published the sarcastic e-mail they received from the public relations office at Ramsey Solutions. Here it is:

From: Public Relations <public.relations@ramseysolutions.com>
Date: Thursday, January 14, 2021 at 1:24 PM
To: Bob Smietana
Subject: Re: Request for interview and comment by Thursday COB

Bob,

Thanks for reaching out. We want to confirm for you that you are right, we are horrible evil people. We exist to simply bring harm to our team, take advantage of our customers, and spread COVID. And YOU figured it all out, wow. Who would have guessed that an unemployed guy, oh I am sorry, a “freelance reporter” would be the one to show us how horrible we are so we can change and to let the world know of our evil intent, secrets, and complete disregard for decency…..but YOU did it, you with all your top notch investigative skills have been able to weave together a series of half-truths to expose our evil ways. You are truly amazing. 

Because your personal virtue is so incredible, we want to help you with your hit piece and confirmation bias. We actually have audio of the time Chris Hogan farted in church and you should have a listen, it is truly horrendous. 

A couple of weeks ago our team decided to do a Worship Service today at 4:30 to kick off the new year. We would love to have you come. You can bring your camera and get some great shots because there will probably be someone without a mask, who knows, there might be someone not socially distancing, and if you use those razor sharp investigative skills of yours you will probably catch one of them with their hands raised in worship to Jesus… which if captioned properly would prove we are an evil cult. Since this is today, it won’t even delay your Pulitzer Prize winning exposé of our pure evilness. Yes, you will be in a building where 1000 people hate you, but we will assign security to protect you….that is how cults do it.  Please let us know in advance if you can make it, so we can personally meet you at the door. And thanks again for using your superior virtue to point out our pure evil intent. I am sure you can find more if you keep looking. 

We are also blind copying several friends to ask their help as well. They are the pastors of the top churches in the area, several business leaders, and Christian leaders who have known Dave and Ramsey Solutions for decades. Also, we are copying our whole team.

If you are on this email we would ask a favor for Ramsey…would you help us? Bob’s phone number and email are here, and we would ask that you contact him TODAY and tell him all the evil horrible stories you know about us. Also, he lives in Spring Hill so if you see him out and about, be sure to congratulate him on his virtue.  He needs to sell this story to pay his rent and the dirtier your story on us the more we can help him. When you call please do not be mean, Bob already has a lot of anxiety and we don’t want to add to that. If his phone is overwhelmed or he doesn’t want to hear your story, you should contact Religion News Service and tell them of Bob’s amazing grasp on virtue and truth. You can also tell them of all the people that have been helped by his pursuit of truth throughout the years as we all have followed his “career.”  It is time the world knows about Bob and the blessing he has been to so many. 

What an embarrassment!

Like Biden, Abraham Lincoln also faced the potential of violence on Inauguration Day

Here is historian Ted Widmer at The Washington Post:

Washington had been unusually angry in the weeks preceding Inauguration Day. Seven states had already left the Union; a mob had tried to attack the Capitol on the day Congress met to tabulate the electoral college vote. Fights broke out in the galleries during speeches, where spectators jeered, “Abe Lincoln will never come here!”

Over the winter, armed militias paraded through the city, and hooligans smashed Republican printing presses, as if to prevent news from flowing. Rumors swept the District that a militia was going to invade from Virginia to set up a new proslavery government. They wanted to keep all of it — the Capitol, the White House and especially the name: the United States of America. Lincoln would have had to start his presidency elsewhere.

There was far more to the visceral opposition to Lincoln than just his views on slavery. He had won with less than 40 percent of the vote, and entrenched interests feared the loss of easy access to Washington’s gilded corridors. Although they were not as gilded as they might have been — one reason it was taking so long to renovate the Capitol was that the guards hired to protect it from looting were stripping its treasures for themselves, down to the paint.

It seemed as though everyone was on the take. Certainly, the proslavery interests had owned Washington for as long as anyone could remember, capturing an overwhelming preponderance of the nation’s House speakers, committee chairs, sergeants-at-arms and Supreme Court justices. Lobbyists flourished in this climate, buying and selling access from local watering holes.

Read the entire piece here.

Joe Biden’s Bible

Biden will be sworn in on Wednesday with his hand on an old family Catholic Bible. Kamala Harris will use Thurgood Marshall’s Bible.

Here is a taste of Dan Silliman’s piece at Christianity Today:

Presidents are not required to take the oath of office on a Bible—and some haven’t. Lyndon Johnson swore to “faithfully execute the Office of the United States” and “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” on a Catholic prayer book. The missal was the most holy text his aides could find on the airplane back to Washington DC, after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.

But almost all the US presidents have taken their oath on a Bible, and frequently they have chosen a historically significant copy. Kamala Harris will be sworn in as vice president on the Bible owned by Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice on the US Supreme Court. Trump was sworn in on Lincoln’s Bible and Obama used Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Bibles.

Biden likely had his choice of historically significant copies, ranging from the one used by Kennedy, the first Catholic elected president, to the one owned by Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist leader who risked re-enslavement more than a dozen times to lead scores of people to freedom. One popular choice among American presidents has been George Washington’s copy of the Scripture. Briggs said when presidents choose that, they’re creating a connection with the country’s founding and renewing a commitment to the principles of the Bible.

“The oath of office links us all together as Americans. And it represents the reality that we are drawing together, by way of the president, as one nation under God, on principles of pursuing justice, proclaiming liberty, and loving your neighbor,” he said.

The choice of a family Bible points to another kind of connection too, according to Paul Gutjahr, professor of English at Indiana University and author of An American Bible.

“Biden strikes me as a guy who is very interested in underlining the communities that were formational for him,” he said. “Family. Church. The towns he’s lived in. The continuity seems really important to him. He wants to show the longevity of his rootedness.”

Read the entire piece here.

“You never want to be ranked below William Henry Harrison, who was only president for one month.”

The quote in the title of this post comes from presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. He adds, “if you rank below [Harrison], it means you’ve harmed the country…Now you’re getting into James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson territory. Trump will automatically be in that category.” Over at The Washington Post, several historians discussed the Trump presidency with reporter David Nakamura.

Matthew Dallek:

Trump’s relentless attacks on civic institutions, provoking of racial and social divisions, trampling of political norms, broadsides against the free press and impugning of America’s international allies have raised profound questions about the nature of American governance and the endurance of the values the United States has long professed to cherish, scholars said.

“Trump and Trumpism have brought those flaws into sharp relief,” said Matthew Dallek, a political historian at George Washington University. “The fact that 74 million people could vote for someone who is a conspiracy theorist and a perpetual liar and encouraged violence and the Proud Boys and white supremacy — in that sense, the Trump presidency will be important for those reckoning with: ‘What does it mean to be an American?’ And also: ‘What does it mean to live in what a lot of people thought was the world’s greatest experiment in democracy, when it turns out that experiment is incredibly fragile?’ ”

Joseph Crespino:

Yet scholars said other records, such as memos and interviews with aides, are more tenuous. Some worried that Trump and his associates will destroy documents despite laws meant to preserve them, while others voiced concerns that White House aides, who like their boss have a record of misleading the public, will be unreliable narrators of his presidency.

“I wonder if there will be the same documentation of Trump’s own decision-making and processes that we have with other presidents,” said Joseph Crespino, a history professor at Emory University in Atlanta. “He’s not a reader or a note-taker or a memo writer. That will be a challenge.”

Nicole Hemmer:

Historians “will think less in terms of analogy [to past presidents] and think more in terms of puncturing the mythic past that both Trump and the people opposed to him alight on — that America had a pure form of democracy that we either lost because of Trump or that Trump brought back,” said Nicole Hemmer, a historian who specializes in conservative media and is working on the Obama Presidency Oral History at Columbia University.

“There’s a lot more continuity here than we might think,” Hemmer said. “We might not be able to pluck one person out of the past and say that is what Donald Trump is like. But we can understand that throughout American history there has been racism and fascism and anti-democratic forces and say he is drawing from those powerful influences.”

Leah Wright-Rigeuer:

To Leah Wright-Rigueur, associate professor of American history at Brandeis University, Trump’s presidency has been a case study in the “naked, unadulterated pursuit of power and self-interest, at the cost of 400,000 lives and at the cost of the American union.”

She added that Trump’s four years have dramatically exposed what racial minorities and other marginalized Americans have long understood — that the nation’s democracy has always been “brutal, exclusionary and flawed” for many citizens.

Read the entire piece here.

Will the GOP abandon populism?

Michael Gerson, the evangelical columnist at The Washington Post, hopes so. Here is a taste of his most recent column:

In the United States, our core political commitment is to a system of self-government based on the rule of law and the protection of the rights of political minorities. This is a different view of politics than many Americans now hold. They think the main purpose of politics is to vanquish some grave evil or defeat ruthless enemies. This is a temptation on left and right, but it has metastasized on the right. Many right-wing populists believe that they are fighting conspiratorial globalists, or child molesters, or oppressive secularists, or “woke” elitists, or the “deep state.” If this is their defining purpose, then constitutional processes are actually obstacles to effective action. A strongman would be more efficient.

This conception of politics is badly and dangerously mistaken. The primary purpose of the American form of government is not to defeat evil; it is to allow people of diverse views and backgrounds to live in peace with one another and find common purpose. That practical arrangement is also a moral commitment. We have a patriotic passion for constitutional procedure — to honor the principle of equal rights and to prevent the exercise of abusive power.

Too many political leaders — most notably in the Republican Party — have allowed these ideals to rust and rot. They have accommodated illiberalism out of selfish interest or abject fear. And this failure has associated people and causes they care about with some of the worst human beings in America. The refusal to defend procedural democracy has put economic conservatives in the same political movement as neo-Confederate thugs. It has placed pro-life Catholics and evangelicals under the same political banner as QAnon and the Proud Boys. Can traditional conservatives not see the massive reputational damage to their deepest beliefs?

For the sake of their party, their ideology and their country, it is essential for elected Republicans to publicly and dramatically distance themselves from authoritarian populism. This means repudiating the lie of a stolen election. This means supporting the Senate conviction of a justly impeached president and ensuring he can never run for office again. This means giving our new president room to govern in the midst of a deadly health crisis.

Read the entire piece here.