Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Humanities research with undergraduates

How deal with slavery in the family tree?

A critique of the five paragraph essay

Wayne Lee reviews Rick Atkinson, The British Are Coming

On submitting flawed work

Naomi Schaeffer Riley reviews Wilfred McClay, Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story

John Lukacs RIP

John Wilson on fear

Did Elizabeth Warren just change the abortion debate?

Andrew Isenberg reviews David McCullough’s The Pioneers

Olaudah Equiano’s faith

Jonathan Den Hartog reviews Joanne Freeman, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War

An academic who writes for the public

The Portuguese restoration of 1640 and American slavery

Is the history major still relevant?

Ironically, Gordon College’s Vice President of Development Was a History Major

Gordon College

If you are not up to speed on Gordon College‘s decision to end its history major (and a bunch of other majors) get up to speed here and here.

It turns out that Gordon’s VP for Finance and Business Development was an undergraduate history major.

While I hope that Mr. Truschel fought valiantly to keep the history major at Gordon, perhaps serving as the only dissenting voice in the meeting when the cut was made, I have my doubts.

I think it’s fair to say that I won’t be interviewing Mr. Truschel for my “So What Can You Do With a History Major?” series anytime soon.  🙂

Why Jews and Muslims Might Claim a Religious Liberty Exemption to the Alabama Abortion Bill

Abortion Alabama

Steven Waldman, author of a new book titled Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedommakes a fascinating argument in a recent op-ed at Newsweek.  What happens when a pro-life position on abortion clashes with religious liberty?  Jews believe life begins at birth, not conception.  Muslims believe that life begins around the fourth month of gestation.  Are these deeply-held religious beliefs?

On the Christian Right, where anti-abortion legislation and religious liberty drive the political agenda of its members, heads are exploding.  What happens when religious liberty clashes with anti-abortion laws?

Here is a taste of Waldman’s piece “Alabama Abortion Law: Should Jewish and Muslim Doctors and Women Get Exemptions For Religious Freedom?:

There may be a strange, implied loophole in the Alabama anti-abortion law—that abortions can be performed … if the doctor is Jewish or Muslim.

Here’s the logic.  We are in a moment of history when the courts are leaning in the direction of providing religious exemptions to secular laws. This was the thrust of the Sisters of the Poor case, when a group of nuns said they should be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for contraception coverage. They argued that the rule violated their religious beliefs so they shouldn’t have to participate. The “Bakers of Conscience” have made a similar argument—that they should be allowed to avoid making a cake for a same-sex wedding without being prosecuted under anti-discrimination laws—because their beliefs are grounded in religion.

The drafters of the law were at least partly motivated by their faith. “When God creates the miracle of life inside a woman’s womb, it is not our place as human beings to extinguish that life,”  said Clyde Chambliss, a sponsor of the bill.

So the question becomes: does the law infringe on the religious beliefs of the woman or the doctor?

Though there are many interpretations in the Jewish tradition, the most common is that life begins at birth, not conception. Reform Rabbis have decreed that abortion is permitted if there is a  “strong preponderance of medical opinion that the child will be born imperfect physically, and even mentally.” If you’re a Jewish woman, you could argue that this law forces you to abide by a different definition of life (with roots in Roman Catholicism). 

If you’re a Jewish doctor who has sworn the Hippocratic oath—to perform medically appropriate procedures without discrimination—then it may be your religious belief that you have a duty to provide a Biblically-sanctioned abortion. By blocking you from offering that service, the law is forcing you to violate your Hippocratic oath and the guidance from your religion.

Read the rest here.

Commonplace Book #111

In the nineteenth-century, the goal of the U.S. Postal Service was to make “knowledge and truth” available to more and more people.  By the end of World War I, this goal has been altered; the greatest user of the mails was now American business.  By 1920, government postal workers were carrying hundreds of millions of packages yearly to American doorsteps, as well as considerable amount of commercial advertising and correspondence.  If the express companies suffered at first, as did rural merchants and wholesalers, the mail-order houses–Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, along with the mail-order divisions of some department stores–reaped colossal dividends. Obstacles to their growth were virtually removed overnight, and their profits swelled from $40 million in 1908 to $250 million in 1920.  Over the next decade, Sears, Roebuck in particular, would owe its great profits and its “golden age” as a mail-order house to the federal government, or to what one historian has called “the greatest distributing system on earth.”

William Leach, Land of Desire, 185.

Michigan GOP Congressman: Impeach Trump

Amash

On the final evening of the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump came to Grand Rapids, Michigan to rally the faithful.  The next day he won Michigan, a state (along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) that carried him to the presidency.

Today Grand Rapids’s GOP congressman, libertarian Justin Amash, called for Trump’s impeachment.  Read Amash’s entire Twitter thread here.

Interesting notes:  Amash’s father is a Palestinian Christian and his mother is a Syrian Christian.  He was the valedictorian at Grand Rapids Christian High School–a school founded by the Christian Reformed Church. His wife Kara is a graduate of Calvin College in Grand Rapids.  He is a member of an Orthodox church.

Mike Pence at Taylor

Taylor

Mike Pence gave the commencement address earlier today at Taylor University.  Taylor’s invitation to Pence has been controversial.  I wrote about it in a piece at Religion News Service.

As expected, dozens of students and faculty walked out of the room before Pence took the lectern.  The Washington Post has the best reporting I have seen so far.  Read Isaac Stanley-Becker’s piece here.

The Indianapolis Star has published the full transcript of Pence’s remarks.  The speech is very similar to the one he gave last week at Liberty University, but it has a slightly less culture war feel.  Pence did not reference Trump as much as he did at Liberty and he dropped some of the persecution language that I wrote about in this Washington Post piece.  Nevertheless, I stand by my original Religion News Service piece.  (See link above).

Here is the transcript:

Thank you so much. To President Haines, the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, family, distinguished guests: It is an honor for us to be here at the Kesler Center for the commencement ceremony of Taylor University Class of 2019. Congratulations.  You made it!  

And I want to thank you, President Haines. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for those warm words. I only wish that my parents could have heard them. My father would have enjoyed it, and my mother would’ve believed it. But would you all join me in thanking President Haines for the extraordinary leadership he’s provided here to Taylor University? We are all so grateful.

And it’s great to be here with so many friends of ours. Met a lot of them backstage.  It’s always good to be back in Indiana. And speaking of friends of mine, allow me to bring greetings from a friend I just spoke to on the phone on my way over to Taylor, shortly after we landed.  He asked me to pass along his regards.  So allow me to extend congratulations to the graduating class of 2019 from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. 

It is a joy to be back home again here in the Hoosier State with all of you with somebody who is the most special person in my life. You know, I always wait to introduce the highest-ranking official last.  She’s a Marine Corps mom.  She’s a champion for military families.  She even teaches art at a Christian school.  Would you join me in giving one more welcome to the Second Lady of the United States of America, Karen Pence?  

Karen and I are really honored to be back on this beautiful campus.  It really is amazing to think: For more than 170 years, Taylor University has faithfully carried out its mission “to develop servant leaders marked with a passion to minister Christ’s redemptive love and truth to a world in need.”  We heard those themes again from the podium already today.

And the class of 2019 is emblematic of that mission, and you are a remarkable class.  You come from 29 different states, 21 different nations, and I learned on the way here that more than 300 of you are graduating from Taylor University today with honors.  Congratulations to you all.  Well done.  

And among you are scholars, accomplished musicians and artists, and exceptional athletes.  In fact — in fact, I heard that all 18 of Taylor’s Trojan teams have been recognized as “Scholar-Athletes” by the NAIA.  Give yourselves another round of applause. That’s great.   

And behind all of these incredible achievements, of course, are some really special people.  Like a young woman who began her career at Taylor as an education major — but over the course of her time here, she was pulled in a different direction.  She’s gone on several mission trips abroad to minister to children in need.  She’s dedicated her time and talent, alongside her parents, to care for refugees.  And today she volunteers at least three days a week at an afterschool program here in Upland.  And today, she will become Taylor University’s first ever major in Orphans and Vulnerable Children.  Join me in congratulating Rachael Rower on a great academic career.  Where are you, Rachael? We’re proud of you.

And I also was told that Rachael is engaged to be married in just under a month.    So I guess I have to recognize another member of the class her fiancé, Joey Ferguson. Well done, Joey. You outkicked your coverage. God bless them both.

And, you know, I was told there’s another member of the Class of 2019 that I just have to mention, because I’m told he’s left an indelible mark on just about everybody he’s met here at Taylor.  He’s a great student, of course, and apparently a really good soccer player.  Good photographer.  Hard worker.  Clear thinker.  And that, even more than his rich Irish accent, is his deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ.  It’s impressed everybody he’s met.

In fact, this young man is joined today, I’m told, by his parents, who had never been to the United States of America before today, but they just flew in to see this Taylor graduate walk across this stage. So congratulations to Charbel Salako. Where are you?  And to Charbel’s parents: Welcome to America!  What a great day.

And I know this is a great day for all of you in the Class of 2019. And it should be fun — because winners have fun, and you’re all winners today.

And you know that you didn’t get here on your own, though. The leaders here at Taylor University poured themselves into you — this administration, this incredible staff, and, of course, the men and women of Taylor’s faculty.

You know, it’s probably pretty safe to say that these professors didn’t go easy on you.  They pressed you over the last four years.  They challenged you, too.  They made you better.  They made you smarter.  They made you more ready.  So would you join me in thanking all the great faculty here at Taylor University for all they have done for you?  

And while I serve as your Vice President — and before that, as the president said here, I served as governor of this great state — the highest position I’ll ever hold is actually spelled “D-A-D.”  You know, Karen and I are the proud parents of three college graduates and that’s worth a round of applause.  Got them all through. 

So honestly, we understand, on a very personal level, the sacrifices that your families have made to help you reach this moment.  And we understand just how proud they are, as they sit all around us today.  And it’s an emotional day for them, I promise you.  They’re remembering not — not just the times that you were here at Taylor; they’re remembering all those days that led up to it.  They drove you to school, got you to do your homework before you went to bed.  And even while you were here, they encouraged you through late nights before final exams, and — and they wrote a few checks along the way, too.  

And they prayed — I know they did — for each and every one of you, every day that you were here.  So before we go any further, would all the moms and dads who are here — all the parents who are here — would you all just stand up so we can show you the appreciation that all these great graduates feel for all the support and love over the last four years?

Men and women of the Class of 2019, today you will graduate from an extraordinary university. You’ll begin your journey. New careers. New endeavors. And you know, they say timing is everything. And to this great class, I just want to tell you, straight up: You picked a great time to graduate from Taylor University. The America that awaits your energies and ambitions is experiencing a new era of optimism and opportunity.  You’re beginning your careers at a time of a growing American economy and restored American stature at home and abroad.

You know, as Vice President, it’s my honor, more than I can say, to serve alongside a President who has stood so strong for our national defense.  And on this Armed Forces Day, we honor all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard who defend our freedom every day. And to all the veterans who are here with us today, thank you for your service.

And I couldn’t be more proud to be part of an administration that has stood strong on the timeless values that have made this nation great, and stood without apology for the sanctity of human life.

But for all those accomplishments, you deserve to know that your timing really is great.  Because under the leadership of President Trump, we’ve been busy getting this economy moving again. We cut taxes. We rolled back regulation. We’ve unleashed American energy.

And as I stand before you today, the economy that awaits you — businesses large and small — have created 5.8 million new jobs in just over the last two years.  Unemployment is at a near 50-year low. And get this: Today, there are more job openings in America than there are Americans looking for work.  That’s great timing, Class of 2019.  

Not that Taylor grads are going to have any trouble finding a job. You know, I actually heard that 97 percent of Taylor graduates secure work or graduate school placement within the first six months of graduation. It’s a testament to this extraordinary university.

You know, the many Taylor grads I’ve worked with over the years are some of the smartest and most dedicated men and women I’ve ever known.  In fact, I’m proud that we got a Taylor grad serving on the staff of the Office of the Vice President at the White House, even as we speak.

So when you leave this remarkable place, I promise you, you’re going to find an America filled with promise. And I know the men and women of this Class of 2019 are going to thrive. Because you have the support of your families.  You have a foundation of a great and unique education.  And because, here at Taylor, it was all built on a foundation of faith — a foundation that cannot be shaken.

You know, it really is beautiful that, before you leave here today, you’ll be handed a diploma; you’ll also be handed a Bible and a Servant’s Towel.  And I believe these elements hold the keys to the success and fulfillment in the lives that await you.  And I know what I’m talking about.

You know, like many of you, I was raised in a church home. But by the time I got to high school, I lost interest in religion. I was one of those people who still went to church, but I was just going through the motions — you know, holding form of Christianity, but denying its power. 

By the time I went off to college — a little school down south of here — I just went my own way.  But when I went to school, I started to meet people — maybe like you have here — that I could tell where different.  Some people that had something I lacked. And it wasn’t just confidence or an easy familiarity; it was something they had that I knew I didn’t have.  The only way I could describe it was peace and a joy about everything in their lives.

In fact, I was so moved by their example that I started attending a Christian fellowship group on campus.  And I had this friend who ran the group.  He was a senior; I was a freshman.  And we became good friends.  And I talked to him a lot about faith issues.  And he spent a lot of time with me and was very patient.

But I noticed, you know, as I got more involved in the local fellowship group, that I decided I was going to go ahead and get involved.  And he was wearing this really cool little cross everywhere he went.  So I started asking him where he got it — you know, because I wanted to get one, too.  Frankly, I started to pester him about it. It was back then before you had these things that you’re always looking at, and we had these catalogues you order things from — you had to call on the phone. Your mom and dad will explain that to you.

And I kept bothering him about the catalogue. I said, “Hey, be sure and get me that catalogue because, you know, I want to order that cross.”  I said, “I’ve decided to go ahead and do the Christian thing. So, you know, I want to — you know, I want to start wearing a cross.”  

I’ll never forget — John looked at me one day and said some words that I’ll never forget.  I said to him, “Don’t forget about that catalogue.”  And he turned around, and he looked at me, and he said, “Mike, remember: You got to wear it in your heart before you wear it around your neck.”    To be honest with you, I didn’t know what he meant.  But I knew there was truth in it.  I wrestled with those words.

Then a little while later, I found myself at a youth Christian music festival that the group went to down in Wilmore, Kentucky.  We sat on a hillside for two days, listening to some great contemporary Christian music and messages in between.  And it was on a rainy night, sitting on that hillside back in 1978, that I heard some words I’d heard my whole life in Church — but I heard them different.

I’d always heard that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  But on that Saturday night, I heard it different.  Sitting on that hillside, I realized that it also meant God so loved me that He gave His only Son to save me from my sin. And overwhelmed not with guilt, but with a heart overflowing with gratitude, that night I put my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.  And it’s made all the difference in my life.  

So now I want to say, not so much as your Vice President or a fellow Hoosier, but as a brother in Christ: If what you’ve seen and heard and learned in this place has also taken hold in your hearts, I want to encourage you to go from here, and live it out, and share it, and put feet on your faith as you carry and minister over the course of your lives.  Because America needs men and women of integrity and faith now more than ever.

You know, the truth is that we live in a time when religious belief is under assault.  We’ve seen unspeakable acts of violence against religious communities.  Synagogues in Pennsylvania and California.  Mosques in New Zealand.  Churches in Sri Lanka.  And three historically black churches burned to the ground in Louisiana.

And on a much lesser scale, but more prevalent, we see a change in our culture as well.  You know, throughout most of American history, it’s been pretty easy to call yourself a Christian — but things are different now.  Lately, it’s become acceptable, even fashionable, to malign traditional Christian beliefs.

So as you prepare to leave this place and build your life on the Christ-centered, world-engaging foundation poured here at Taylor University, be prepared to stand up.

You know, as Dr. Milo Rediger wrote in “Anchor Points” so long ago, he said, quote, “we’re looking for young people [here at Taylor] who are willing to stand up and be counted for God.”  And as you stand up, be prepared to face opposition.

But be confident.  For the Bible says, “God has given us a spirit not of timidity, but of power and love and self-control.”  So go show the world every day that we can love God and love our neighbor at the same time.    Our nation and our world needs it.

And know also that freedom of religion is enshrined not just in the Constitution, but in the hearts of every American.  And I promise you: We will always stand up for the freedom of religion and for the right of every American to live, to learn, to worship according to the dictates of your conscience.  That’s a promise.  

And finally, as you prepare to depart on your lives and careers, I hope that you will take one other piece of that foundation poured here at Taylor University along.  I hope that you will aspire to serve.  To be, as that towel will ever remind you, a servant leader.

You know, I believe public service is a noble calling.  But wherever life takes you, take a servant’s attitude.  Consider others more important than yourselves.  Live your lives as He did: not to be served, but to serve.

And if you need examples, you can just look around the people that are sitting with you.  A lot of young men and women here have already learned:  The fulfilled life is the life of service to others.

Like a public health major who grew up in Illinois who is graduating today.  Like many of you Taylor students, she traveled overseas to give her time and talent to help those in need.  But, as the story goes, during her J-term of her sophomore year, she was serving on a mission trip in the Middle East, and this young woman started to feel what she called “a little tug from God.”

Since then, that little tug has turned into a calling, and a calling that she’s answered.  And after graduation, this incredible young woman will move to the Middle East and serve as a Women’s Health Coordinator for the non-profit One Collective.  So would you all join me in showing our appreciation for the great example of 2019 graduate, Claire Heyen.  Well done, Claire.  We’re proud of you.  

So, Class of 2019, my word to all of you is: Never stop believing, never stop serving, and always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have, with gentleness and respect. Because our nation and our world need that message of grace and love these days maybe more than ever before.

And as you do these things, in increasing measure, I promise you, you’ll be blessed.  You’ll be a blessing to your family, to your coworkers, and you’ll be a blessing to this nation.

You know, America has always been a nation of faith.  As our first Vice President, John Adams, said, and I quote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  So just know, as you strengthen the foundation of faith in your life; as you carry that faith from here, in service to your fellow Americans, you will be strengthening the foundation of America itself.  

So thank you for the honor of addressing you. To all of our graduates, I say: Have faith.  Have faith in yourselves, proven by what you’ve accomplished to get you to this very day.  Have faith in the principles and the ideals that you learned here and the noble mission that has always animated Taylor University.  And have faith that He who brought you this far will never leave you, nor forsake you — because He never will.

Congratulations, Class of 2019. You did it. God bless you. And God bless America.

Commonplace Book #110

Unique to Western business practices, fashion merchandising was a theatrical strategy par excellence that embodied the quest for the new.  Like window display and the toy store, it democratized desire; it carried exciting meanings and introduced the mass of consumers to everything from the aristocratic glamour of Paris to the exotic allure of orientalism.  “Fashion,” a 1908 retailer said, “imparts to merchandise a value over and above it intrinsic worth” and “imbues with special desirability good which otherwise excite only languid interest.”  Its intent was to make women (and to a lesser degree men) feel special, to give them opportunities for playacting, and to lift them into a world of luxury or pseudo-luxury, beyond work, drudgery, bills, and the humdrum everyday.  Its effect was often to stir up restleness and anxiety, especially in a society where class lines were blurred or denied, where men and women fought for the same status and wealth, and where people feared being left out or scorned because they could not keep up with others and could not afford the same things other people had.

William Leach, Land of Desire, 91-92.

Let Me Repeat: Democrats Have Been Appealing to Religion for a Long Time

Obama compassion

Obama talks about his Christian faith at the Messiah College “Compassion Forum” in 2008

I appreciate the Pacific Standard calling attention to religion and the race for the Democratic nomination, but Chayenne Polimedio’s piece makes it sound as Democratic candidates talking about religion is a new thing.  Granted, Hillary Clinton could have done more to make religious appeals, especially to moderate evangelicals, but the religious left has been around for a long time.  I wrote about this here and here.

Here is a taste of Polimedio’s piece:

Democrats seem to have finally caught on to the fact that national elections can be hard to secure with purely secular campaigns. This is a wise observation: Faith plays a large role in the lives of millions of Americans, and religious values drive the voting choices of many of them. In this election cycle, Democratic hopefuls like Pete Buttigieg and Julián Castro, who’ve not only embraced their faith but also made it a pillar of their political platforms, are telling of potentially larger shifts within American society and politics.

This evolution of how faith is discussed in the public realm and who gets to lead that discussion is, in part, due to America’s changing religious identity: The evangelical church is graying and losing members, religious “nones” are on the rise, and growing Latino and Asian populations mean that religion in the United States is becoming less white and more diverse. These are all factors that, at least ostensibly, work in progressives’ favor. In fact, the 2020 election cycle is, in some ways, poised to be one in which the Christian right won’t have a monopoly on the role of religion in public life, with some progressive politicians determined to close the “God Gap” once and for all.

Read the entire piece here.

Is the Founder of The Veritas Forum Behind an Anti-Muslim Facebook Campaign?

Jullberg

What is going on with Kelly Monroe Kullberg, the founder of the Veritas Forum?  Here is a taste of Asysha Kahn’s piece at Religion News Service:

Fact-checking website Snopes linked the network to Kelly Monroe Kullberg, the founder and president of The America Conservancy, whose aims, as Kullberg has described online, are “advancing Biblical wisdom as the highest love for people and for culture.” All 24 Facebook pages had financial ties to Kullberg directly or organizations she helps lead.

Posts on the network decry “Islamist Privilege and Sharia Supremacy” and claim that Islam is “not a religion”; that Islam promotes rape, murder and deception; that Muslims hate Christians and Jews; that Muslims have an agenda to “spread Sharia law and Islam through migration and reproduction”; and that resettling Muslim refugees is “cultural destruction and subjugation.”

The tactics seem to mirror the playbook of Russian troll farms, with page titles purporting to originate with diverse demographic groups like “Blacks for Trump,” “Catholics for Trump,” “Teachers for Trump” and “Seniors for America.”

Snopes found that Kullberg and her associates’ agenda appeared, at least in part, to be working to re-elect President Donald Trump in 2020. The “astroturfing” campaign — referring to efforts made to look as if they come from legitimate grassroots supporters — was at least in part funded by right-wing political donors, including a prominent GOP donor who served as a fundraiser and campaign board member for 2016 presidential candidate Ben Carson.

I was happy to contribute to the Khan’s report:

“If you would have told me about this investigation 20 years ago I would have been very surprised,” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College and author of the book “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.” But given Kullberg’s more recent politics, he said, it’s hardly shocking.

Once a mainstream evangelical Christian figure, Kullberg is the founder of the The Veritas Forum, a prominent non-profit organization that partners with Christian college students to host discussions on campus about faith. The discussions attract non-evangelical, non-Christian and secular speakers as well as leading mainstream evangelical voices.

Her 1996 book “Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians” topped bestseller lists. Now based in Columbus, Ohio, she has served as a chaplain to the Harvard Graduate School Christian Fellowship and spent time as a missionary in Russia and several Latin American countries.

Most recently, Kullberg appears to have shifted further right politically, taking what Fea described as a “pro-Trump, Christian Right, culture war posture” laced with anti-social justice rhetoric. The American Association of Evangelicals, for which Kullberg is the founder and spokeswoman, is “essentially a Christian Right organization whose supporters read like a list of evangelical leaders who have thrown their support behind Donald Trump as a savior of the country and the church,” he said.

“She seems obsessed with the influence of George Soros on progressive evangelicals and believes that social justice warriors have hijacked the Gospel,” Fea noted.

Read the entire piece here.

While running the Veritas Forum, Kullberg worked with Christian speakers such as Francis Collins, Robert George, Os Guinness, Tim Keller, Peter Kreeft, Madeleine L’Engle, George Marsden, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Alister McGrath, Richard John Neuhaus, Alvin Plantinga, John Polkinghorne, Dallas Willard, Lauren Winner, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and N.T. Wright.  She put some of these speakers into dialogue with the likes of Anthony Flew, Christopher Hitchens, Nicholas Kristof, Steven Pinker, and Peter Singer.

In her new role with the “The American Association of Evangelicals” she works with court evangelicals and pro-Trump evangelicals such as Eric Metaxas, James Garlow,  Everett Piper, Tim Wildmon, Wayne Grudem, Steve Strang, David Barton, and Lance Wallnau (the Trump prayer coin guy).

The divisions in American evangelicalism are widening.   The American Association of Evangelicals (AAE) is now the conservative, Christian Right alternative to The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Here is how it understands its relationship to the NAE:

Kullberg is also a leader with Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration (EBI) a more conservative evangelical immigration group that appears to be an alternative to the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT).  While the EBI includes many of the culture warriors I mentioned above, the EIT includes people like Leith Anderson (President of the NAE), Shirley Hoogstra (President of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities), and Russell Moore (President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission).

New alignments are forming.  Evangelicalism is changing and fracturing.

Commonplace Book #109

Glass was a symbol of the merchant’s unilateral power in a capitalist society to refuse goods to anyone in need, to close off access without being condemned as cruel and immoral (as he might have been condemned in a precapitalist feudal society when it was expected that powerful personages even as they extracted payments from peasants, had an obligation to give something in return).  At the same time, the pictures behind the glass enticed the viewer.  The result was a mingling of refusal and desire that must have greatly intensified desire, adding another level of cruelty.  Perhaps more than any other medium, glass democratized desire even as it dedemocratized access to goods.  There it is, you see it as big as life–you see it amplified everywhere, you see everything revealed–but you cannot reach it.  Unless you shatter the window or go in an pay for it. you cannot have it. In such a context, the breaking of glass could have easily become a class act.

William Leach, Land of Desire, 63.

Why a $45.00 Prayer Coin is Actually a Bargain for Trump Followers

trump_cyrus_coin_jim_bakker_twitter

Here is a taste of my piece today at Religion News Service:

For centuries, Catholics have used rosary beads to aid them in the practice of prayer.  Some American Protestants view their Bibles as a kind of talisman or amulet that transmits supernatural power.

And today some American charismatic Christians pray using a coin emblazoned with a picture of Donald Trump.

On Monday (May 13), a charismatic preacher named Lance Wallnau appeared on the program of disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker to hawk a Donald Trump/King Cyrus gold coin.

He claimed that the coin can be used as a “point of contact” between Christians and God as they pray for the re-election of Trump in 2020.

Bakker’s show, which is syndicated daily on his PTL (Praise the Lord) Television Network, is known for selling his viewers products to help them survive the coming apocalypse. With the click of a mouse, a Christian who wants to prepare for the end of the world can buy buckets of freeze-dried food (the “30 Day Fiesta” Bucket appears to be popular), duffel bags that can withstand electromagnetic pulse attacks, flashlights and generators.

Wallnau and Bakker are selling the Trump/Cyrus coin for $45, but charismatic Christian viewers — many of whom identify as evangelical — can also drop $450 on a “13 Trump Cyrus Bundle” that includes 13 sets of the coin, the booklet explaining the connection between Trump and the former Persian king and the DVD of Wallnau conducting a religious service.

Read the rest here.

Flannery O’Connor on the Lost Cause

Flannery

Check out Peter Candler‘s piece at The Christian Century on a little-known Flannery O’Connor short story in which she wrestles with memory and history in the South.  Here is a taste of his piece, “Flannery O’Connor’s challenge to the Lost Cause myths of the Confederacy.”

Propping up an illusory history has a price, and not just on balance sheets. The human cost of such self-deception is the subject of an early and little-known story by Flannery O’Connor, “A Late Encounter with the Enemy.” Originally published in Harper’s Bazaar in 1953 and included in A Good Man Is Hard to Find two years later, the story is about the ways in which the burdens of history, when honestly confronted, can bring not enlightenment but devastation.

“Late Encounter” is barely ten pages in the Library of America edition. It is hardly one of her major works (O’Connor described it as “not so bad”), and it rarely figures in critical studies of her work. But it is notable for being the only piece of her fiction that directly treats the Civil War and its legacy. The story is only superficially about the war, though; it is really about the way in which the war is—or is not—remembered. It is a story about memory and the deep conflict between public commemoration, sectarian mythology, and historical reality.

“Late Encounter” is structurally simple: there is a single main scene framing one flashback. Sally Poker Sash is about to attend her college graduation, the joyful fruit of a protracted education spread out over 20 summers while she was teaching school. It’s such a big deal that she has invited her 104-year-old grandfather, a Confederate veteran, to attend in full military dress. Sally arranges for him to sit up on stage—not so that he will have a good view of the proceedings but because she wants him to be seen: “she wanted to show what she stood for, or, as she said, ‘what all was behind her,’ and was not behind them. This them was not anybody in particular. It was just all the upstarts who had turned the world on its head and unsettled the ways of decent living.” She wants the crowd to see him, and herself through him—“Glorious upright old man stand-in for the old traditions! Dignity! Honor! Courage!”—as a rebuke to their wanton ways.

And here is Candler’s conclusion:

What if history is not at all the way we prefer to remember it? Could it be that monuments—not just public ones but also those our own personal histories are made of—are tokens of a tacit agreement to forget certain difficult truths? Directed both generally at an inveterate human skill for self-deception and specifically at the mythology of the Lost Cause, the question that O’Connor’s “Late Encounter” puts to the reader is both blunt and surgical: What if you are wrong about what it is you think you were fighting for?

Read the entire piece here.

The Obama Oral History Project

Obama Scandals

Columbia University and the Obama Foundation will be teaming up to tell the story of the Obama presidency.  Here is a taste of an article at The New York Daily News:

He can’t get in the 2020 race, but Barack Obama will be the talk of the town this summer when Columbia University researchers launch an oral history project about his groundbreaking presidency.

With the pols and pundits fixated on the upcoming presidential election, Columbia University and the Obama Foundation announced Thursday that they are joining forces to tell one of the most important stories in American history.

Using the voices of aides, elected officials, appointees and everyday people, the oral history team will preserve diverse accounts of how the Obama administration affected the lives of Americans.

“The pride we feel in counting President Obama as an alumnus involves much more than the recognition of his time as a student here many years ago,” said Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger.

“This is a relationship built on shared values and interests that is producing public spirited projects of enormous, even transformative, potential at Columbia. The latest venture will capitalize on the university’s unsurpassed talent for assembling oral history and will, I am sure, create an invaluable resource for understanding an historic presidency,” Bollinger said in a statement.

Read the rest here.

Allen Guelzo Asks: “Did Robert E. Lee Commit Treason?”

Robert E. Lee

Allen Guelzo is writing a biography of Robert E. Lee.  This is the first thing I have seen him publish on the topic.  Here are the main points of Guelzo’s argument in “Did Robert E. Lee Commit Treason?” at Athenaeum Review:

  1.  “The Constitution’s definition of treason is a very narrow one
  2.   “Lee would have to be tried in the jurisdiction where the treason occurred
  3.  “The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Salmon P. Chase, would not co-operate”
  4.  “Lee’s own self defense.”

And Guelzo concludes:

In the end, one has to say, purely on the merits, that Lee did indeed commit treason, as defined by the Constitution. But the plausibility of his defense introduces hesitations and mitigations which no jury in 1865—even Underwood’s “packed jury”—could brush by easily. That, combined with the reluctance of Ulysses Grant and Salmon Chase to countenance a treason trial for Lee, makes it extremely unlikely that a guilty verdict would ever have been reached. But the jury which might have tried him was never called into being, and without a trial by a jury of his peers, not even the most acute of historical observers is really free to pass judgment on the crime of Robert E. Lee. Yet the question remains far from academic. In the cosmopolitan atmosphere of global communications and cultural fluidity, the notion of treason has acquired an antique feel, not unlike medieval notions of honor or feudal loyalty. To the extent that global communications, mass migration, and instant universal commerce render national boundaries more and more meaningless, can modern individuals be held to the standard of absolute loyalty to a single political entity? “Citizenship does not free a man from the burdens of moral reasoning,” writes legal philosopher A. John Simmons. “The citizen’s job” is not to absorb obligations to the nation-state and “to blithely discharge it in his haste to avoid the responsibility of weighing it against competing moral claims on his action. For surely a nation composed of such ‘dutiful citizens’ would be the cruellest sort of trap for the poor, the oppressed, and the alienated.” Moreover, the assertion of the existence of international standards of human rights runs in direct conflict with how states regard, and are allowed to regard, the disloyal behavior of their nationals. Nor is this merely an exercise of left-internationalism; for many libertarians, treason loses the taint of moral betrayal and becomes a mechanism by which an all-powerful State prevents “dangers to its own contentment.” As it is, the Constitutional definition itself is so narrow that convictions for what might be considered treasonable offenses are prosecuted instead under the 1917 Espionage Act. But to deny that treason can occur, or that citizens can be held culpable for it, is to deny that communities can suffer betrayal to the point where their very existence is jeopardized.

Read the entire piece here.

The Pietist Schoolman Urges His Representative to Fund the National Archives

Archives

Chris Gehrz, who loyal readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know as “The Pietist Schoolman,” has inspired me to write a similar letter to my representative.

Gehrz builds off of T.J. Stiles’s recent piece on budget cuts to the National Archives.  His post is titled “Don’t Balance Budgets on the Back of History.”

And here is his letter to Representative Betty McCollom (D-Minnesota):

Dear Rep. McCollum,

I’ve been your constituent for sixteen years — as a resident of St. Paul and now Roseville, and as a history professor at Bethel University in Arden Hills. Whether I’ve agreed or disagreed with you on specific points of policy, I’ve always appreciated your service and admired the spirit in which you serve. Until this month, I’ve never felt compelled to write you a letter. But as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, you are in an excellent position to help address a critical problem: the continuing decline in fundingfor the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

As Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer (and Minnesota native) T.J. Stiles pointed out last week in The Washington Post, Congress used to allocate nearly half a billion dollars annually to NARA. But in 2012, NARA’s budget fell from $475 million to $420 million. By 2019 the operational budget was down to $373 million, and President Trump has proposed just $345.6 million in operating expenses for 2020.

That’s simply insufficient to fund the essential work of a significant federal agency whose workload is only increasing. Not only does NARA need to continue to maintain its two central facilities in the DC area, plus presidential libraries, records centers, and regional facilities, but it is already far behind in an effort to digitize its paper holdings. While the employees of NARA are dedicated professionals, their numbers are dwindling, and those that remain are increasingly unsure of their ability to fulfill their mission.

“America is losing its memory,” wrote Stiles. “More than a resource for historians or museum of founding documents, NARA stands at the heart of American democracy… If Congress doesn’t save it, we all will suffer.”

I know such claims can sound like hyperbole. And there are many other worthy causes in every budget fight that have more immediate impact on the lives of people. But I want to underscore the very real danger involved in allowing the National Archives to suffer continuing underfunding.

Why are the National Archives important? I’ve used its resources and services in multiple ways:

• I could not have written my doctoral dissertation without the archives and archivists at the main archives building in College Park, Maryland, and I’ve used the NARA-administered Truman and Eisenhower presidential libraries for other research.

• Like history professors at other Minnesota colleges and universities — including your alma mater and Stiles’ — I depend on NARA-digitized materials for student reading and research in courses on subjects like World War II and the Cold War. So too do my social studies education students, who will use NARA-curated sources in teaching history, government, economics, and civics courses at middle and high schools in our district and state.

• But I also use the National Archives as most other citizens do. I’ve delved into NARA’s genealogical records to better understand the story of my own family, and I’ll bring the next generation of that family — my two children — to the National Archives building in Washington, so that they can see firsthand the founding documents of our democracy.

By all of these activities, we Americans engage in the vitally important work of understanding, interpreting, and learning from our collective past. These historical practices may be the most important source of our national identity, for we cannot know who we are if we don’t understand who we have been.

But also, who we are becoming. For when we study the past, Americans both see more clearly the causes of our nation’s shortcomings and are inspired to address those challenges, as we recognize the historic accomplishments of the women and men who preceded us.

We can’t take any of that for granted. As a historian, I know all too well that the past is constantly disappearing. Memories fade; evidence erodes. And even when documents and artifacts are preserved, they need to be made available to the public and interpreted for the public.

Such preservation, access, and interpretation are impossible absent a well-funded national archives agency.

So I was encouraged to see that your committee has already voted to increase or keep stable funding for museum and library services and a history/civics grants program. In the same spirit, I hope that you and other representatives will restore NARA funding to a more appropriate level of $410 million.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for your years of public service.

Dr. Christopher Gehrz

Like Chris, I encourage you to write a similar letter.

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. Gordon College Will No Longer Have a History Major
  2. Liberty University Took Some of the Old Southwestern Seminary Stained Glass Windows
  3. “Dear Mike Pence: The real persecution of Christians isn’t here in America”
  4. More Thoughts on Gordon College’s Decision to Drop the History Major
  5. Commencement at Liberty University
  6. Evangelical Trump Fans: Don’t Forget to  Buy Your King Cyrus-Donald Trump Prayer Coin
  7. What Hath Trump Wrought
  8. David Blight on Reinhold Niebuhr, Theology, and a Bunch of Other Things
  9. Tim Conway, RIP
  10. When the Way of Improvement Can’t Lead Home: A Brief Review of Tara Westover’s  Educated

Alabama Governor Signs Anti-Abortion Bill One Day and Plans to Execute Someone on the Next Day

Alabama Governor

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey

Today I had a long conversation with New York Times reporter Adeel Hassan.  He was trying to figure out how Alabama could execute a convicted murderer on the day after the state passed a very extreme abortion law.  Here is his report:

A scholar of evangelical Christianity said that most evangelicals in Alabama probably feel no tension between support for the death penalty and opposition to abortion.

“Most conservative evangelicals wouldn’t think twice about executing someone and then going to a pro-life march the next day,” said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College. He said their views have often been shaped by the political battles that have raged over social issues in recent decades, so that, for example, they also tend to oppose spending tax money on government programs that might reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

Progressive evangelicals see the issues differently, Mr. Fea said, but “they are a minority in the state of Alabama and most of the evangelical South.”

Read the entire piece here.

Commonplace Book #108

In the decades following the Civil War, American capitalism began to produce a distinct culture, unconnected to traditional family or community values, to religion in any conventional sense, or to a political democracy.  It was a secular business and market-oriented culture, with the exchange and circulation of money and goods at the foundation of its aesthetic life and of its moral stability…The cardinal features of this culture were acquisition and consumption as the means of achieving happiness, the cult of the new, the democratization of desire; and money value as the predominant measure of all value in society.

William Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Ruse of a New American Culture, 3.