When Human Beings Are Reduced to Hashtags

tisbySome of you may remember our interview with Jemar Tisby on Episode 48 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. He is the author of The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.

Here is his latest piece at Religion News Service:

According to mental health professionals, when human beings encounter a threat we respond in one of three ways: fight, flight or freeze. 

We can choose to confront the threat by fighting, either physically or verbally. We can run away from the threat in an act of self preservation; again, this can be literal or it can be an emotional and psychological retreat. Finally, we can freeze, an experience of physical or psychic paralysis that won’t let us fight or flee but temporarily immobilizes us. 

The fight, flight or freeze reflex may kick in when people of conscience see or hear about the latest incident of Black death. I had this reaction when I first saw the video of George Floyd’s killing this week. A white cop calmly pressing his knee against the back of the neck of a prostrate Floyd, who was Black. Floyd pleaded with the officer, “I can’t breathe,” until Floyd lost consciousness and soon died. 

Another human being reduced to hashtags: #JusticeforGeorge and #Icantbreathe

Read the rest here.

We Want The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast to Go Weekly This Summer…

Podcast

But we can’t do it without your help!

The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast is back after a short COVID-19 hiatus. We have been out of the studio, but with the help of studio producer-extraordinaire Kaci Lehman (now a resident of Nashville!), we have figured out a way to produce episodes with decent sound quality.

In the past, we have taken summers off. But this year we are hoping to not only produce summer episodes, but drop one every week! Right now we are close to making this happen, but we still need a bit more support. If you are interesting in supporting the podcast, or our work here at the blog, click on “Support,” follow the link to our Patreon page, and join our community of patrons. Your money goes directly toward our work here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. And all of the benefits of membership–mugs and books–are still available! You can also go directly to the Patreon page by clicking here.

We already have three summer episodes in the can.

Episode 67 (Dropped on May 24, 2020): Public historian Susan Fletcher, author of Exploring the History of Childhood and Play Through 50 Historic Treasures, talks about the history of your favorite games and toys. This episode dropped on May 24, 2020.

Episode 68 (Drops on May 31, 2020): Historian Lindsay Chervinsky, author of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institutiontalks about the first presidential cabinet.

Episode 69 (Drops on  June 7, 2020): We talk NBA history, Michael Jordan, and the ESPN documentary “The Last Dance” with Baylor University historian of sport Paul Putz.

Stay tuned.  We are ready and eager to go with more episodes, but we can’t do it without you! Shoot me a DM on Facebook or Twitter and let me know what guests you want to hear from this summer.

And, as always, a BIG THANK YOU to our current and ongoing patrons!

The History Behind “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”

Here is what Trump tweeted this morning:

This phrase comes from former Miami police chief Walter Headley:

Looting shooting

Here is a taste of front-page article from the Miami Herald on December 27, 1967:

Miami Police Chief Walter Headley announced Tuesday that his men will use shot-guns, dogs, and a “get tough policy” instead of community relations programs to cut crime in the city’s slums.

Headley said he is “declaring war” on criminals responsible for a sharp increase in armed robberies and shootings in Miami’s Negro areas.

“Felons will learn that they can’t be bonded out from the morgue,” he said.

He said his men have been told that any force, up to and including death, is proper when apprehending a felon.

“Community relations and all that sort of thins has failed,” Chief Headley said. “We have done everything we could, sending speakers out and meeting with Negro leaders. But it has amounted to nothing,” he said.

“We haven’t had any serious problems with civil uprisings and looting because I’ve let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Chief Headley said. 

His statement was in a sharp contrast to recent comments of Dade Sheriff E. Wilson Purdy who credited community relations and special personnel training for successfully preventing civil disorders.

“My men are getting tired of felons being bailed out of jail so quickly that they beat the arresting officer back to his zone,” Headley said.

He said the major group his “get tough” policy is aimed at is young Negro males, from 15 to 21.

“Ninety per cent of our Negro population is law abiding and wants to eliminate our crime problems,” he said. “But 10 per cent are young hoodlums who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign.”

Headley said special cars will be organized with sufficient police manpower to enforce the city’s “stop and frisk law” on gangs loitering on city streets.”

He said he is transferring about half of the 16 men in the vice squad to patrols to bolster his force on the streets.

More police dogs are being sought to add to the 16 dogs now serving in the department’s canine corps.

Heavily equipped police without dogs have been unable to apprehend fleet-footed young hoodlums, Headley said. “We’re going to use shotguns and dogs to stop them from now on,” he said. 

He said the shotguns will be equipped with shells “so thopse on the receving end won’t get up very quickly.”

“We don’t mind being accused of police brutality. They haven’t seen anything yet,” Chief Headley said.

I’m taking complete responsibility for this and I just hope we get support from the people we’re trying to help.”

He said he decided on the new policy after three Miamians were killed by armed bandits over the Christmas weekend.

Asked about possible reaction from civil rights groups and other opponents of the get tough policy, Headley said, “I guess I’ll have to start carrying my pistol and not answering my phone for a few days….”

For some context, I encourage you to check out Chanelle Nyree Rose‘s book The Struggle for Black Freedom in Miami: Civil Rights and America’s Tourist Paradise, 1896-1968. Rose writes:

Racial tensions between Miami’s black community and the police department escalated after Police Chief Walter Headley instituted what became the notorious “get tough” policy in the fall of 1967. As longtime civil rights advocate and law professor Michelle Alexander has pointed out in her scathing indictment of the criminal justice, the “get tough on crime movement” emerged as a conservative response to liberals who placed more emphasis on police brutality than structural inequalities that helped to explain high crime rates in black communities. In Miami, Headley routinely criticized Robert High’s mayoral leadership and held strong reservations about various public officials’ non-confrontational approach toward addressing racial unrest through organizations like the metropolitan Community Relations Board.  He adopted a more sophisticated racism that embraced paternalism, and his approach appeared  more akin to Albany’s Laurie Pritchett than Birmingham’s “Bull” Conner. In effect, he had tactfully avoided the kind of negative publicity that traditionally followed his notorious predecessor Leslie Quigg. But this would change. In December 1967, Headley announced that the police department planned “to use shotguns and dogs” to curb the escalating crime rate in Liberty City. The police chief deemed such drastic measures as necessary and heavily criticized the ineffectiveness of community relations programs in regard to criminal activity. His infamous statement, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” evoked national criticism and fueled black discontent on a local and national level.

George Floyd’s Christian Witness

FloydWe are learning more about the late George Floyd.

Here is Kate Shellnut at Christianity  Today:

The rest of the country knows George Floyd from several minutes of cell phone footage captured during his final hours. But in Houston’s Third Ward, they know Floyd for how he lived for decades—a mentor to a generation of young men and a “person of peace” ushering ministries into the area.

Before moving to Minneapolis for a job opportunity through a Christian work program, the 46-year-old spent almost his entire life in the historically black Third Ward, where he was called “Big Floyd” and regarded as an “OG,” a de-facto community leader and elder statesmen, his ministry partners say.

Floyd spoke of breaking the cycle of violence he saw among young people and used his influence to bring outside ministries to the area to do discipleship and outreach, particularly in the Cuney Homes housing project, locally known as “the Bricks.”

“George Floyd was a person of peace sent from the Lord that helped the gospel go forward in a place that I never lived in,” said Patrick PT Ngwolo, pastor of Resurrection Houston, which held services at Cuney.

“The platform for us to reach that neighborhood and the hundreds of people we reached through that time and up to now was built on the backs of people like Floyd,” he told Christianity Today.

Ngwolo and fellow leaders met Floyd in 2010. He was a towering 6-foot-6 guest who showed up at a benefit concert they put on for the Third Ward. From the start, Big Floyd made his priorities clear.

“He said, ‘I love what you’re doing. The neighborhood need it, the community need it, and if y’all about God’s business, then that’s my business,’” said Corey Paul Davis, a Christian hip-hop artist who attended Resurrection Houston. “He said, ‘Whatever y’all need, wherever y’all need to go, tell ‘em Floyd said y’all good. I got y’all.’”

The church expanded its involvement in the area, holding Bible studies and helping out with groceries and rides to doctor’s appointments. Floyd didn’t just provide access and protection; he lent a helping hand as the church put on services, three-on-three basketball tournaments, barbecues, and community baptisms.

“He helped push the baptism tub over, understanding that people were going to make a decision of faith and get baptized right there in the middle of the projects. He thought that was amazing,” said Ronnie Lillard, who performs under the name Reconcile. “The things that he would say to young men always referenced that God trumps street culture. I think he wanted to see young men put guns down and have Jesus instead of the streets.”

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. Eric Metaxas Explains His Racist Tweet
  2. Now John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church WILL NOT Open Tomorrow
  3. If There is Such a Thing as Twitter Blackface, Court Evangelical Eric Metaxas Just Engaged in It
  4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Stupidity
  5. Os Guinness’s Appeal to the Past is Deeply Problematic
  6. George Floyd, T.J. Klausutis, Masks are for Wimps, and Twitter Lies: Where are the Court Evangelicals?
  7. Eric Metaxas Talks With Al Mohler About “The Gathering Storm”
  8. Comparing Trump and the Court Evangelicals on Twitter During the Last 72 Hours
  9. What is (Still) Happening at Cedarville University?
  10. The R.R. Reno “Meltdown”

 

Commonplace Book #144

We do have a language for the human magnificence we witness in the wake of devastation; we do have a language that expresses our longings both for a sense of the world’s magnitude and for fleshly access to transcendence. Our best hope for an imaginative and political antithesis to capitalist enchantment resides in the lineage of Romantic, sacramental radicalism. It understands calamity, injustice, and degradation as predicaments of human divinity, hardships can reveal our suppressed or perverted but nonetheless godlike nature. It views that material universe as a cosmic theater of divine  vitality, charged with the grandeur of God. Beginning with the squatters on St. George’s Hill, the pedigree of Romantic modernity maintained that we already live in paradise, and that our blindness to the heaven all around us is the source of our descent into the hell of property, rank, and dominion. The capacity to apprehend paradise had several names–“imagination,” “wonder,” “passionate vision,” “sacramental consciousness”–but it has always been a way of seeing, a perception of some truth  and goodness and beauty intrinsic to the material world, a view that embraces without nullfiying the knowledge obtainable through the sciences.

Eugene McCarraher, The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity, 674-675.

 

Jerry Falwell Jr. Just Designed His Own Blackface COVID-19 Mask; Faculty Member Resigns Immediately

FalwellTweetMasks-796x1024

When I started this blog 12 years ago, I never imagined that one day I would be writing about the intersection of white evangelicalism, Donald Trump, a major pandemic, and blackface.

Earlier today, I published a piece at Religion News Service on court evangelical Eric Metaxas’s use of blackface. Now Jerry Falwell Jr, the president of Liberty University and the guy who recently appointed Metaxas as a fellow at his Christian Right “think tank” the Falkirk Center, is tweeting about blackface.

Yesterday, Falwell Jr. tweeted:

I was adamantly opposed to the mandate from @GovernorVA requiring citizens to wear face masks until I decided to design my own. If I am ordered to wear a mask, I will reluctantly comply, but only if this picture of Governor Blackface himself is on it!#VEXIT#EndLockdownNow pic.twitter.com/twu7r4rWhd

— Jerry Falwell (@JerryFalwellJr) May 27, 2020

Here is Zack Linly at The Root:

First of all: Can we just acknowledge that the conservative resistance to wearing face masks makes no sense? This isn’t like the push to reopen the economy because, for all of that campaign’s faults, it’s at least about getting people back to work. The anti-face mask thing, on the other hand, just seems like arbitrary defiance for the sake of defiance. It’s just odd that all of these Republican officials, including y’all’s president, seem so hellbent on dying on that particular hill. (Editor’s note: Perhaps literally. COVID-19 is not a game.)

Falwell—the man who once had arrest warrants issued for journalists because they were covering his widely criticized decision to reopen Liberty U’s campus despite the dangers of the COVID-19 outbreak—took things a step further by randomly invoking racism to make his point.

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, Northam caught black people’s collective side-eye last year when a photo from Eastern Virginia Medical School’s 1984 yearbook was unearthed, showing him in blackface next to someone in KKK attire. Northam initially apologized for the photo then later denied it was him in the photo at all. This was certainly a drag-worthy offense, but Falwell is still way out of his lane here.

On its face (pun intended), Falwell’s tweet just makes it seem like he’s planning to wear a mask with a Klan member and a white guy in blackface on it. It just looks like him being racist as hell, which is probably why he needed to clarify things in a separate tweet.

“Just so folks outside Virginia unfamiliar with the pic on the mask understand: it is from the personal page of the medical school yearbook of @GovernorVA,” he tweeted. “Just a way to shine a spotlight on the fact that Democrats are and always have been the real racists in this country.”

Read the entire piece here. You can read a local news report here.

Yes, this is another example of the fact that not all Christian colleges are the same.

And now at least one African-American Liberty University professor has resigned.

Christopher House is a tenured communications professor at Ithaca College and the pastor of Christian Community Church in Ithaca, New York. He also teaches in Liberty University’s online program.

Here is his letter of resignation, published on his Facebook page:

I’m a Black tenured associate professor at Ithaca College and a pastor. My research expertise and scholarship in rhetoric, race and religion and also rhetorical theology have opened up other opportunities for me to speak/teach at other institutions where critical conversations about race, racism and white supremacy are needed the most.

In late 2018, I was presented with a unique opportunity to do so at the graduate level as an instructor for an Intercultural Communication class at Liberty University online.

A bit uneasy, yet feeling compelled to do so, I agreed to bring my expertise to bear in an online environment in fall 2019.

I did so not that I align myself politically with this institution or its leadership (because I don’t), but because I know that there are individuals who attend Liberty who need to hear diverse voices like mine and the message I carry. I was surprised to find graduate students open to new ideas and ways of understanding about such critical issues.

However, yesterday after a friend (who is a LU alumnus) forwarded me photos of two racists tweets from LU President Jerry Falwell, I resigned immediately!!!!!

My moral compass and integrity would not allow me have any further relationship with that institution for any reason!

I was brought into LU to generate the kind of dialogue that challenges the ideas, narratives and ideologies that underlie the very images Falwell intentionally used to make a political statement to the Governor of Virginia. Falwell did so at the expense of Black people and Black pain. This is abhorrent, evil and sickening! This does not reflect the God of the Bible!

I have come to meet some really bright students at Liberty (and who are there for many different reasons) who have to endure this type of environment. My heart goes out to them.

This is another reminder to me that some folks really don’t want to change. And although I was able to impact a few, the price to continue to do so is too high! My resignation letter is below!

Yet another chapter in the history of the world’s second largest Christian university.

Yet another chapter in the story of white conservative American evangelicalism in the age of Trump.

Song of the Day

American Skin (41 Shots):

For those unfamilar with the history behind this song, click here.

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

41 shots, and we’ll take that ride
‘Cross the bloody river to the other side
41 shots, cut through the night
You’re kneeling over his body in the vestibule
Praying for his life

Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

41 shots, Lena gets her son ready for school
She says, “On these streets, Charles
You’ve got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight”

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it a wallet (is it a wallet), this is your life (this is your life)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it in your heart (is it in your heart), is it in your eyes (is it in your eyes)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)

41 shots, and we’ll take that ride
‘Cross this bloody river to the other side
41 shots, I got my boots caked with this mud
We’re baptized in these waters (baptized in these waters)
And in each other’s blood (and in each other’s blood)

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it a wallet (is it a wallet), this is your life (this is your life)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in
You can get killed just for living in
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

41 shots
41 shots
41 shots
41 shots

41 shots
41 shots
41 shots
41 shots

41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)

41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)

Black People in America Are Getting Lynched and This is What Trump is Doing…

Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. Riots. And Trump is going after Twitter.

Enough!

Here is ABC News:

President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order targeting Twitter and other social media giants, saying he is taking action to “defend free speech from one of the gravest dangers it has faced in American history,” after Twitter called two of his tweets “potentially misleading.”

Calling it a “big deal,” Trump said the order allows for new regulations so that social media companies “that engage in censoring or any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield,” but experts say he probably can’t do much without congressional approval and any move will be met with legal challenges.

White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said the president signed the executive order right after reporters left the Oval Office.

As expected, the order calls for new regulations under Section 320 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides broad immunity from lawsuits to websites based on the content its users post, and thus curbs some of those liability protection for companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google.

“They have had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences,” Trump claimed. “We are fed up with it.”

Read the rest here.

Walking Back Metaxas’ Tweet on Biden to Blackface Days

Metaxas

Religion News Service asked me to write something on this. Here you go:

Eric Metaxas, a Christian author, radio personality and one of the president’s most prominent court evangelicals, wants to make America great again. Earlier this week we got a glimpse of what he might mean by such a return to greatness, and it speaks volumes about the state of white evangelicalism in the age of Donald Trump, particularly as it relates to race.

Last week, Metaxas published a tweet in response to Joe Biden’s comments during a radio interview with African American talk show host Charlamagne tha God. At the end of the interview, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”

Metaxas reacted on the social media platform that he has called “a sick and nasty place”:

Just now Joe Biden tried & failed to walk back his ‘You ain’t black comment’ by saying ‘Sho nuff you is so shizzle ain’t black! Cuz Massa Trump be fixin to put all y’alls behinds back in chains! You done got you sefs no choice in dis hyah. And that’s a FO sho for sho!”

Metaxas eventually deleted the tweet and then devoted part of his own syndicated radio program this week to defending it. Metaxas claims he was poking fun at how Biden’s use of “black lingo”— especially the former vice president’s use of the phrase “ain’t black”— serves as an example of how “old white Democrats” co-opt African American speech for political gain.

Biden’s comment was, as many have pointed out, inappropriate and offensive for its presumption to speak for African Americans. Metaxas’ tweet, however, was worse. His language tapped into the nearly 200-year-old practice of blackface minstrel shows, a form of white entertainment that has long been a source of pain in the African American community.

Read the rest here.

The Biden Avengers

Biden 2

Should Biden announce his cabinet picks NOW? It’s an interesting idea.

Here is Ron Brownstein at The Atlantic:

For Democrats playing the political equivalent of fantasy baseball, it’s not hard to identify a range of potential appointments for Biden—whether he wants to identify individuals for specific jobs or just nod more broadly by indicating several names that would be part of his team in any policy area.

Conversations with Democrats suggest a Biden national-security team, for instance, could include Susan Rice and Tom Donilon, both of whom served as national security adviser to Obama; retired Admiral William McRaven, who organized the raid that killed Osama bin Laden; and Buttigieg, the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor whose experience as a married, gay, religiously devout, polyglot veteran has some Democrats viewing him as the ideal vehicle to represent a changing America to the world as UN ambassador.

A Biden environmental and climate-change team could include Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who set the pace on the climate debate during his own brief bid for the 2020 nomination; former Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry, who might lead U.S. efforts to revive the Paris climate agreement after helping negotiate the original pact; and Mayors Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and Francis Suarez of Miami, who have pushed for cities to adapt to the growing risk. (Suarez would also advance Biden’s stated goal of appointing Republicans to his government.)

Booker (on job training and America’s workforce), the businessman Andrew Yang (on managing technological change), the former Obama official Julián Castro (on immigration and expanding opportunity in minority communities), and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (on housing and urban development) might all fill positions in his domestic-policy team.

Biden’s Justice Department—encompassing those working on racial-equity and voting-rights issues—might include former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates; Senators Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren; and former Georgia state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams. (One of them, aside from Yates, could be picked for vice president instead.)

Many on the left would also thrill to see Warren as treasury secretary, though that would send shockwaves through the party’s Wall Street supporters. Easier to imagine is Biden turning to the Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to help lead the government’s response to the coronavirus and plan for potential future epidemics.

If the talent among younger Democrats represents the opportunity in this approach, the necessity is this: Public polling consistently suggests that Biden, a 77-year-old white man first elected to office in 1970, won’t ever inspire an eruption of enthusiasm among the activist liberals and young voters who were drawn to Sanders, or among younger people of color more broadly.

Read the entire piece here.

Of course this will also create more targets for Trump.

Robert Jeffress’s New Book Offers Instructions on How to Pray for America’s Restoration as a Christian Nation

Trump Jeffress

On Tuesday night, I wrote about Albert Mohler’s new book. Today it is Robert Jeffress’s turn. I saw that the first five chapters of his new book Praying for America were available for free download and I was going to try to carve out some time to read and comment on them. But Peter Montgomery at Right Wing Watch beat me to the punch. Here is his recent piece:

Chapter 5, the last of the free chapters released as a teaser for the book, is entitled “For National Unity.” Jeffress cites the 1969 moon landing as an event that unified the county even in the wake of the assassinations and social chaos of 1968. The chapter encourages people to pray for greater unity among Christians and in “our divided nation.”

“Ask God to silence those who strive to spread division and hatred and to bring any slanders in the media to repentance,” Jeffress writes. Well, what about the slanderer in the Oval Office, who spent part of Memorial Day weekend charging a journalist he hates with having committed murder, against all evidence to the contrary? Has Jeffress called Trump to repentance for the way his campaign and administration spread division and hatred?

Jeffress also encourages people to “engage in civil discourse with those with whom we disagree.” Now, “civil discourse” doesn’t exactly bring to mind Trump’s sneering contempt for his critics or Trump spiritual adviser Paula White denouncing his political opponents as demonic and anti-God. And it certainly doesn’t seem to apply to Jeffress’s own actions as a Trump surrogate in the media, where he has mocked Nancy Pelosi’s faithwarned that the left is just waiting to regain political power to wage “intensive” attacks against the Church, and railed against Democratic leaders, saying, “Apparently the god they worship is the pagan god of the Old Testament, Moloch, who allowed for child sacrifice … I think the god they are worshiping is the god of their own imagination.”

Read the entire piece here.

It looks like there is a lot of history, or at least references to the American past, in the book. For example, chapter 1 begins with the John Adams 1798 call for a day of prayer and fasting as the United States was on the brink of war with France. “By God’s mercy,” Jeffress writes ,”war with France was avoided, and America thrived. Well, not really. America fought an undeclared naval war with France between July 1798 and September 1800. You can read about it here.  In the same year, Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law. It is worth remembering that the Sedition Act limited free speech and made it illegal to criticize the government of the United States. I guess this was also a result of Adams’s day of prayer.

The Author’s Corner with Noeleen McIlvenna

Early American RebelsNoeleen McIlvenna is Professor of History at Wright State University. This interview is based on her new book, Early American Rebels: Pursuing Democracy from Maryland to Carolina, 1640–1700 (University of North Carolina Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Early American Rebels?

NM: All my work starts from the premise that the poor are not stupid. They know when they are being used and abused. But, in most eras on most continents, it’s very difficult to do anything about it. Power has all the weapons and they are relentless in their pursuit of more power and wealth. Working people have only numbers. And there is so much to fear: losing one’s livelihood, one’s health, the unknown future. So organizing ourselves to act collectively and then maintaining that solidarity over time and under varying pressures is a very tough road to climb. That’s why revolutions occur so rarely.

This is my third book on southern colonial history. As an immigrant myself, who grew up on one side of the Atlantic and crossed in my early twenties, I identify with the first generation of settlers along the North American coastline. I understand how one carries over cultural baggage and must adjust to a New World. So I write about those people: in North Carolina (A Very Mutinous People), in Georgia (The Short Life of Free Georgia), and now in Maryland.

Early American Rebels began as a prequel of sorts to A Very Mutinous People. While I was in the middle of the Georgia book, a genealogist contacted me and asked if I was aware that one of the Mutinous People protagonists had been in trouble in Maryland earlier. I was totally unaware; North Carolina historians had always felt that the first settlers came from Virginia. So when the Georgia manuscript had been sent to the publisher, I began to follow up, thinking I would write a small article about this story. But very quickly, I realized I had stumbled into a much bigger story: a whole network of activists had organized and organized and organized over two generations, struggling to establish a society based on Leveler ideals. Levelers were the radicals of the English Revolution: they wanted a society with a level playing field: no monarchy, no aristocracy; a vote for every man. Equality. We think of that as a basic American value, but it was revolutionary in the seventeenth century. And too often, Americans are taught that those ideals came from Virginia planters of the eighteenth century. But that is wrong. Poor indentured servants a hundred years before the American Revolution held those ideals and fought for them.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Early American Rebels?

NM: A network of settlers in the Chesapeake region fought for a say in their own governance in the mid-late seventeenth century. American democratic ideals are their legacy.

JF: Why do we need to read Early American Rebels?

NM: It is important for us to understand that we should look to those at the bottom of any society for leadership on how to change it. Early American Rebels gives us a guide on what it takes to create a more equitable world. It warns us how we might fail if the powerful separate us by race and make us compete for the crumbs. I hope you will get a sense of the playbooks of both the rebels and the elite.

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

NM: That occurred in several stages. The most important was the first day of eighth grade, back in Northern Ireland, when my new history teacher wrote the preamble to the Declaration of Independence on the blackboard and told us to copy it into our notebooks. When I got to the phrase, “it is the right of the people to alter or abolish [their government],” I looked up and met his eyes. I repeated the phrase to him and he nodded, smiling. As a poor Catholic girl growing up during the Troubles, no one had really said that clearly to me and I knew immediately its significance. We mostly studied European history for the rest of high school, but I was hooked on understanding how some people came to have power and some did not. If someone had told me that there was such a job as an historian and that a poor Catholic girl was allowed to have that job, I would have signed up for it at age thirteen. But I had no concept that such a thing was possible.

I studied History as an undergraduate in Northern Ireland, but still did not grasp that I could become a history professor. No women taught history at that university. It seemed that a woman who loved history had one outlet: teach the subject at the high school level. Fast forward some years, an emigration or two and a few adventures and I was working at the University of Tennessee as a staff archaeologist. I saw lots of women professors and graduate students. When my boss told me I needed an MA and history was close enough to archaeology to suffice, I walked across the parking lot to the History department. The first graduate class I signed up for was Colonial America. That was that.

JF: What is your next project?

NM: I want to write an economic history from the bottom up. That is, how did the seventeenth-century Atlantic World economy function, starting at the workplace of an indentured woman in the Chesapeake and moving up and out until we finish with the King, politicians and financiers in London. We would see how much work she does to earn enough to eat, how the tobacco she works on, or whatever she produces gets sold and resold, who enjoys the profit at what stage and so on.

JF: Thanks, Noeleen!

Eric Metaxas Explains His Racist Tweet

Here is the tweet again, with Karen Swallow Prior’s response:

metaxas Blackface

We covered this here.

Watch:

Metaxas says most people on Twitter are “not that smart” and thus did not understand what he was trying to accomplish with this tweet. No–I think what you wrote is pretty clear, Eric. Even us idiots and stupid people got the message.

Metaxas thinks that George Soros might be paying his Twitter critics. When it doubt, reference Soros. Stay consistent with the brand.

Notice what he does here. He says he wishes he never published this tweet. Why? Because he should have anticipated unfair attacks on him from the “woke maniacs.” And then he apologies to “those people” who he may have legitimately offended–the people who are not part of the “woke mob.” He also references my (and Prior’s) “Twitter blackface” comment and then deflects to Ralph Northam and Justin Trudeau. Finally, the guy who spends most of his shows ripping into anyone who does not support Donald Trump, says we need more “grace.”

Eric Metaxas is always the victim.

By the way, on today’s show, Metaxas and his guest defended this.

*The New York Times* Obituary for Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias speaks at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay

Glad to contribute a couple of comments to this. I know some of my evangelical friends will be impressed that I am quoted before Tim Tebow. 🙂

Here is Steven Kurutz:

Ravi Zacharias, an evangelist and author who became an important voice for Christians by making a rational argument for the existence of God and vigorously defending the faith against atheists, relativists, Buddhists and other challengers, died on May 19 at his home in Atlanta. He was 74.

Mr. Zacharias suffered from cancer, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries said.

Unlike other influential evangelists such as Billy Graham, Mr. Zacharias did not have an outsize public persona, court politicians or host revivals in stadiums around the world. Rather, he practiced an intellectual form of Christian theology called apologetics that dates back to the Apostle Paul.

Mr. Zacharias believed the way to counter an increasingly secular culture was to make a logical case for theism, and to explain why Christianity above all other religions is best equipped to answer life’s fundamental, existential questions. His ministry’s motto is: “Helping the thinker believe. Helping the believer think.”

Mr. Zacharias laid out his arguments in more than two- dozen books, including “Can Man Live Without God?” (1994) and “Why Jesus?” (2007), through his radio program, “Let My People Think” and in speaking appearances around the world.

He rose to prominence in 1983, when Mr. Graham invited him to speak at a conference for evangelists in Amsterdam. His non-Western background (he was born in India) set Mr. Zacharias apart from American evangelical preachers, and gave him a certain authority as someone exposed to religious pluralism.

“Ravi was a kind of philosopher for the church,” said John Fea, a professor of history at Messiah College, a private Christian school in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “His primary audience was conservative evangelicals with college degrees who wanted to give some kind of rational, empirical defense of their faith in the workplace, at the water cooler, with the people they sat next to on the plane.”

High-profile followers include Tim Tebow, the former NFL quarterback and professional baseball player. He formed a friendship with Mr. Zacharias, and in early May, as the preacher battled cancer, posted a tribute on Instagram, saying, “I think it’s really important in life to have heroes, and especially in the faith, and one of my heroes of the faith” is Mr. Zacharias.

Read the rest here.

George Floyd, T.J. Klausutis, Masks are for Wimps, and Twitter Lies: Where are the Court Evangelicals?

Trump iN DallasLet’s think about what has happened in the last 24-48 hours.

The President of the United States continues to push a conspiracy claiming that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough murdered Lori Klausutis, a 28-year-old women who died in his former congressional office in 2001. The widower of this woman, T.J. Klausutis, wrote a letter to Twitter asking the social media outlet to remove these tweets. In that letter he wrote: “the president of the United States has taken something that doesn’t belong to him–the memory of my dead wife–and perverted it for perceived political gain….My wife deserves better.”

One hour ago, Trump tweeted:

Despite its refusal to remove Trump’s Scarborough tweets, Twitter may be waking-up to the president’s lies. The social media outlet recently fact-checked a Trump tweet on mail-in ballots. Trump says that he will punish Twitter for this. (I still don’t understand why Twitter fact-checked this tweet and not the Scarborough tweets).

In Minneapolis, four police officers were fired for their involvement in the death of a black man named George Floyd. An officer held down Floyd with his knee as Floyd said that he could not breathe. He died shortly after this took place.

Trump mocked his Democratic 2020 rival Joe Biden for wearing a mask. He told a reporter wearing a mask that he was trying to be “politically correct.” Conservative radio pundit Rush Limbaugh said that masks have become a “required symbol on the left to promote fear, to promote indecision, to promote the notion that we’re nowhere out of this.” Trump’s press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that it is “peculiar” that Biden doesn’t wear a mask at home.

These all seem like moral issues that Christians should be concerned about. The T.J. Klausutis story falls into the realm of “family values” and “marriage.” The Twitter fact-check story is about the difference between truth and lies. The George Floyd case is about human dignity and racism. The mask story is about life.

But too many conservative evangelical leaders, especially the court evangelicals, are silent. Trump has paralyzed them. Their consciences are held captive by GOP politics, the Christian Right political playbook, and the president. Their heads are in the sand. They are mostly silent. While all of these stories rage, they tweet things like this:

 

Court evangelical Jack Graham should be commended for calling attention to the Floyd case:

Reed agrees with Graham:

Now if only Graham and Reed would develop a deeper political theology to address the history of systemic racism that led to this moment. They condemn what happened to Floyd. This is right and good. Yet they remain blind to the racism and racist policies of Donald Trump.

Eric Metaxas Talks With Al Mohler About “The Gathering Storm”

Al Mohler has a new book out. It’s called The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church.

Watch:

A few lines in this video stood out to me:

  • Mohler says that during World War II, Great Britain waited too long to be awakened to the challenge of Nazi Germany. Christianity now faces similar challenges and Mohler wants to make sure its adherents don’t wait too long to respond. Like Mohler, I do believe that the church needs to be awakened to a challenge. As I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, the challenge is to overcome fear with hope, exchange the pursuit of political power for a politics of humility, and replace nostalgia with some serious historical thinking about the sins of our nation. Indeed, if evangelical Christians are not up to this challenge we, to quote Mohler here, “pay a deep price.”
  • Mohler wants to equip Christians to face “tectonic changes” in “the foundational level of morality” and “the definition of truth.” As we listen to him, let’s remember that Mohler has announced that he will be casting a vote for a president who has lowered the bar on public morality and has done everything in his power to redefine the meaning of “truth.” As long as Trump is president, Mohler will be fighting an up-hill battle on this front.

And here is Mohler talking about the book on the Eric Metaxas Show:

  • Mohler begins by discussing how Churchill stood-up to the “gathering storm” of Nazi Germany when “Britain’s establishment refused” to do so. Metaxas’s first response is: “We have to remember how vilified he [Churchill] was.”  Metaxas is a master at turning any conversation into a story about his own apparent victimization. He goes on to remind Mohler that when Churchill was “proven right” about Hitler, “the whole world thought, my goodness, this guy’s a prophet.” And Metaxas doesn’t just stop there. He suggests similar things are happening today. Anyone who has followed Metaxas over the last several years can easily read between the lines here. Metaxas believes that by defending Donald Trump he will one day be seen as something akin to Churchill–a hero and prophet.
  • Both Metaxas and Mohler like to fashion themselves as historians. They love to talk about the historical forces that have led to the decline of Christianity in the West. And some of what they say is correct. But they fail to see how their entire conversation on this show has also been shaped by historical forces. These are the forces that led them to embrace the Christian Right political playbook as their guide for changing the world. To use Mohler’s own words, “this didn’t happen out of a vacuum. It happened out of a historical context we can see happening.” So I ask: What “historical context” has led Metaxas and Mohler to define “biblical values” solely in terms of abortion, marriage, and religious liberty? What historical forces have led them to believe that overturning Roe v. Wade is the only way of reducing abortion in America?
  • Mohler’s discussion of “cultural power” sounds like a soft Seven-Mountains Dominionism. He stops short of saying that Christians must reclaim these cultural spheres and restore America to a Christian nation, but I am pretty sure he believes this. We once again see Mohler’s historical and cultural conditioning at work. He believes that American culture is lost and the only way to be a faithful Christian in this world is to win it back through the ballot box. Where did he learn this? Why does he believe this is true? What has shaped him on this front?
  • The discussion turns to slavery. Based on this conversation, I assume Mohler and Metaxas, if they were alive in 1860, would have been one of the 170 Americans who voted for Gerrit Smith of the Liberty Party.  He was the only abolitionist candidate on the ballot.  I have commented on Metaxas’s comparisons between abortion and slavery here.
  • Mohler says, “God did not make us so that we can actually operate in a secular [society].” What does this mean? Is Mohler suggesting that God made us to live in a Christian nation? In the Christendom of the West? As I understand it, God made us to live as members of his Kingdom. Historically, the Church has always thrived in a secular society. Mohler seems to confuse the Kingdom of God with the United States of America.
  • Mohler talks about the 2020 election. He says if you are a “swing” voter you “have no clue what is going on–we are in two Americas.” Indeed, the divides are great. But let’s remember that these clueless swing voters made Trump president in 2016 and Trump is going to need them again in 2020. They are not as deplorable as Mohler makes them out to be. Metaxas follows-up by calling swing voters and third-party voters “ignorant.” And then he says that “God will judge you if you don’t vote.” I assume he means that God will judge us if we don’t vote for Trump. Metaxas doesn’t try to hide his arrogance. Like most fundamentalists, he calls out the wrath of God on anyone who does not agree with him politically.
  • The interview ends with Mohler defending his decision to vote for Donald Trump in 2020. He claims that his decision is part of his “political stewardship.” Again, Mohler thinks about politics and public engagement in a very limited way. Many African-American Southern Baptists, as well as those who see the application of Christian faith to social issues in a broader and more consistently biblical way, have criticized him for his narrow political vision. Mohler likes to talk about “the culture.” And he makes some important points about religious liberty for Christian schools. But I heard nothing in this interview–either from Metaxas or Mohler– about the Gospel.