Pastors Preaching Politics: It was Bad in 1776, it is Bad Today

Black Robe

400 evangelical pastors are heading to Liberty University this week to participate in an event sponsored by the American Renewal Project.  The goal of the closed meeting is to mobilize pastors for the 2020 election.  Speakers at the event include former Virginia congressman (now Liberty professor) David Brat, Christian nationalist David Barton, and Christian Broadcasting Network political analyst David Brody.  (I am guessing that they are not mobilizing pastors to vote for a Democrat :-))

The American Renewal Project is run by David Lane, a Christian Right politico who wants pastors to preach political sermons, run for political office, and use their ecclesiastical authority to convince parishioners to vote for Donald Trump in 2020. We wrote about him here and here.

Here is a taste of Brody’s article at the Christian Broadcasting Network website:

“The Pastor and Pews events have been extremely valuable in mobilizing church-going voters and illuminating critical issues for elections,” said former presidential candidate and Fox News Contributor Mike Huckabee. 

Huckabee, a former pastor himself, has spoken at these events many times before and understands their value. 

“I am convinced that the pastor and pews model was instrumental in the 2016 election of President Trump and has been instrumental in numerous statewide elections for congressional, US Senate and gubernatorial races.”

President Trump won 81 percent of the white conservative evangelical vote in 2016 and during it all, the American Renewal Project was on the ground and extremely active. In the 60 days before the General Election, ARP spent $9 million in six battleground states, including some big prizes like Florida, Ohio and North Carolina.  Now they’re back at it looking for a repeat. 

“It is the single, largest, most cohesive voter bloc in the last election,” said Doug Wead, a noted historian, and best-selling author and advisor to two U.S. Presidents. “Now its all about voter ID and turnout.”

With all the extra vitriol, animosity and energy aimed at Trump this time around, the president will need a similar showing or even better to win in 2020.  

Read the rest here.

Lane and other Christian nationalists and court evangelicals believe that they are a modern-day “Black Robe Brigade,” a name given to revolutionary-era pastors who supported American independence in 1776.

The appeal to the Black Robe Brigade reveals a fundamental problem with these kind of history-based Christian Right arguments.  Lane, David Barton, and others give a moral authority to the past that is almost idolatrous.  In other words, if pastors used their pulpits to promote a political agenda in 1776, then they must have been right.  If it happened in the eighteenth-century it is somehow immune from any moral or theological reflection today.  Thomas Jefferson said that our rights come from God, so Christian nationalists conclude, with little theological reflection on whether or not Jefferson was correct, that our rights indeed come from God.  This leads them to make all kinds of wackadoodle arguments that the amendments related to quartering soldiers, trial by jury,  excessive bail, and cruel and unusual punishment are somehow rooted in biblical teaching.

At the heart of all this is the belief that the American Revolution was ordained by God.  If this is true, then any attempt at promoting this significant moment in providential history–whether it be carried out by preachers or patriots–must be good. The Black Robe Brigade mixed religion and politics and so should we.  There is very little deep thinking about how the mixing of religion and nationalism in the church–whether it happened in 1776 or 2019–harms the witness of the Gospel.  Perhaps this explains why church attendance was at an all-time low during the American Revolution.

One thought on “Pastors Preaching Politics: It was Bad in 1776, it is Bad Today

  1. We focus a lot on the downstream effect of these “evangelical leaders,” as in President-to-“court evangelicals”-to-“rank and file evangelicals,” as the political message is disseminated down through the ranks. But I wonder a lot about the opposite direction, and the faith message that is being communicated upwards. Something I think about from time to time: the folks leading this conference, and others with the same views, are the people surrounding the President and influencing his views on Christianity. I think that almost all of us (except for those very deep into the Kool-Aid) recognize that the President is not a particularly religious or spiritual person. And so his view of Christianity is very likely being defined by what these people are sharing with him and communicating to him as his “evangelical advisors.” And what is that view of Christianity? It seems to me that the view is: (1) Christianity is essentially indistinguishable from conservative Republican political policy; (2) Christianity is most perfectly embodied by American conservative nationalist Republican evangelicals; (3) destroying “liberals” (really defined as anyone who is not ultra-conservative) is God’s will and is a service to God; (4) Donald Trump is the best thing that has ever happened to the Christian faith since, well, Jesus; and (5) God is undoubtedly very, very well-pleased with him.

    Trump supporters and opponents alike recognize that the only way to have a voice with this President is through constant exaltation and praise and flattery. I have to think that the picture of Christian faith his evangelical advisors are painting for him is one that is extremely distorted, pandering, and pride-inducing.

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