Yesterday James Comey, a former Methodist Sunday School teacher and Reinhold Neibuhr fan, was calling Donald Trump a liar before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Near the end of Comey’s appearance on Capitol Hill, the POTUS was speaking to the annual meeting of the Faith and Freedom Coalition (FFC). The irony is too hard to pass up.
Reed disappeared from God and country politics in 2005 after he was implicated in the Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal. In essence, he helped Abramoff mobilize evangelicals to help close casinos on Indian reservations. He was paid for his efforts by rival casinos. When Reed expressed concern that the evangelical constituency of his Christian Coalition might not look too favorably on such an arrangement, Abramoff laundered his fees through other organizations. As Alex Gibney put it in a September 2010 piece in The Atlantic: “there was probably nothing illegal about what Reed did. But, he was engaged in a kind of spiritual fraud: telling his supporters that he was opposed to gambling when, in fact, gambling was making him rich.”
After laying low for a few years, Reed created the FFC in 2009. He describes his organization as a 21st century version of the Christian Coalition. This is a good description. The FFC appeals to evangelicals of a certain age who are nostalgic for the glory days of the Christian Right. It fuses traditional evangelical moral values with free market capitalism, tax reform, national defense, the GOP, and the support of Israel.
Speakers include Trump, Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, Mark Meadows, Joni Ernst, Ted Cruz, Michael Medved, Pat Boone, Grover Norquist, Eric Metaxas, and James Dobson. It seems to be a very friendly place for the Court Evangelicals.
Here is Trump’s speech:
A few more thoughts.
- Trump begins by acknowledging that 81% of evangelicals voted for him in November 2016. He said, “We got 81% of the vote. I want to know, who are the 19%? Who are they? Where do they come from?” Well, I think it’s time to let Trump know that we are here. Let’s try to revive the hashtag #19percent.
- When historians study what happened in the United States on June 8, 2017, they will inevitably compare the humility of Comey before the Senate to the arrogance of Trump’s speech before evangelicals. These comparisons will not be missed.
- Trump says “we are under siege.” Who is under siege? Is this a veiled reference to the Comey hearing? Does he mean that evangelicals are under siege? But Trump continues: “we will come out bigger and better and stronger than ever, you watch.” Since when does the Christian gospel teach us to seek political power that makes us bigger, better, and stronger than ever? The Court Evangelicals love this stuff. The crowd goes wild.
- Trump says his “one goal” is to fight for America and “America First.” Do any other Christians get a bit queasy when the Court Evangelicals cheer “America First?”
- Trump doesn’t stop there. He actually has the audacity to quote Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Someone in Trump’s camp must know that evangelicals love the New International Version). I want to hear Trump apply this verse to his budget proposal, his (now long-term) plans for a border wall, his health care plan that will keep over 20 million people uninsured, and his attempt to ban refugees. And yes, the Court Evangelicals applaud.
- Trump takes credit in this speech for repealing the so-called Johnson Amendment. Actually, The amendment is still on the books. Only Congress can change this amendment to the tax code. Trump says that repealing the Johnson Amendment “was a big deal and a very important thing for me to do for you, and we are not finished yet.” What does Trump mean by “not finished yet?” Does he plan to continue to support the Christian nationalism of the Court Evangelicals? Is there a connection between this vision for America and his attempt to ban Muslims from entering the country? “We are not finished yet.” Somewhere David Barton must have been smiling.
- Trump says that “we are here to celebrate two values that have always been linked together…faith and freedom.” As an American historian it is hard to argue with this statement. Evangelicals have been linking these things for a long, long time.
- Speaking of history, Trump says “Benjamin Franklin reminded his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention to begin by bowing their heads in prayer.” I am not sure what Trump is referring to here because this did not happen. Those who want to explore this further should check out pp. 151-152 of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.
Proud to be a member of the #19percent.