Teaching James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation”

James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson

Yesterday in my Created and Called for Community (CCC) class at Messiah College we discussed James Weldon Johnson‘s poem “The Creation” (1922). It is one of seven poems in his 1927 collection God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse.   Read it here.

My colleague (and Dean) Peter Powers, a scholar of religion and the Harlem Renaissance, writes:

“The Creation”  is found within the collection of God’s Trombones, which Johnson conceived as an interlinked set of sermons modeled on the style of traditional African-American preachers. Johnson thought of these preachers’ voices, with all their power and emotional range, as God’s trombones,” and saw clear links between the preaching, writing, and music-making of African Americans during this time.  All three forms of expression conveyed originality and creativity, and so could serve as wellsprings of African-American aspirations of freedom .

In writing these sermons into poetry, Johnson sought to communicate both authenticity and dignity.  He was troubled by many writers of his time (both white and African American) who used literary conventions and cliched dialect that depicted African American speech as malformed and unintelligent.  Johnson felt such depictions could perpetuate racist stereotypes that African Americans were incapable of significant cultural achievements in written English.  So instead of deliberately using misspellings and outrageous grammatical constructions, Johnson evoked the oral tradition in a more nuanced way through sentence structure, syntax, and word choice.  The aesthetic choice suggests that the oral tradition is high art in and of itself, as well as the basis for producing other great works of art.  This idea–that great art should be rooted in the folk tradition even as it transcends it–became a signature aesthetic of the Harlem Renaissance.                

“The Creation” is a sermon.  It is meant to be preached. So I decided to play a reading of the poem by African-American clergyman and vocal artist Wintley Phipps. I asked the students to follow along with the printed text and try not to get caught-up with the images added by the creator of the You Tube video.  I wanted this exercise to cultivate the moral imagination.

I asked the students to compare Johnson’s interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 with the actual Old Testament text they read on Monday.  Several students connected Johnson’s poem to the second creation account (Genesis 2:4-2:25), an account that reveals the personal and compassionate nature of God.

We talked about the dignity of the poem and its historical context in Jim Crow America.  I wanted the students to see that James Weldon Johnson and the other writers of the Harlem Renaissance had a more theologically sound understanding of humanity than the era’s white defenders of segregation.  We returned to Bruce Birch’s essay and talked again about the Judeo-Christian belief that all human beings are created in the image of God.  Human dignity and worth has nothing to do with the color of one’s skin. Johnson knew this.

One particularly bright student connected Johnson’s poem to Bruce Birch’s distinction between the “ethic of doing” and the “ethic of doing.”  In “The Creation,” Johnson writes:

Then God walked around,

And God looked around

On all that he had made.

He looked at the sun,

And he looked at the moon, 

And he looked at the stars; 

He looked at the world

With all  its living things,

And God said, I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down–

On the side of a hill where he could think;

By a deep, wide river he sat down;

With his head in his hands,

God thought and thought ,

Till he thought: I’ll make a man! 

This student noted that before God acted to create humankind, he thought about it.  Johnson says that God “thought and thought” with “his head in his hands.” It was an important reminder that we need to engage intellectually with the world before we act in the world.

Finally, I told the students that Johnson’s poem serves as a wonderful transition from this week’s focus on the biblical creation story to next week’s conversations about creativity.  Johnson wrote a poem about creation.  But “The Creation” is also a creative work.   We are created in God’s image and are thus called to create.  More on this next week.  Follow along here.

The *Philadelphia Inquirer* Responds to the Financial Struggles of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

HSP

I spent a lot of time in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) in the 1990s when I was writing my doctoral dissertation.  I have also lectured there a few times.  So needless to say I was saddened to learn that this venerable institution was having financial troubles.

Yesterday the editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer called on the city to strengthen the HSP.

Here is a taste of the editorial:

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania realized $2.2 million last November by selling 1,102 commemorative medals from a collection bequeathed to it in 1897. The financial struggles of this nonprofit institution in Center City are worrisome but all too familiar. In 2018, the Philadelphia History Museum abruptly shut down. While it will be rebooted through a partnership with Drexel University, neither the Historical Society’s proposed affiliation with the University of Pennsylvania nor with Drexel has borne fruit.

HSP calls itself “Philadelphia’s Library of American History” with good reason: It is home to a printer’s proof of the Declaration of Independence, a first draft of the Constitution, a journal of the Underground Railroad, and millions of other handwritten, printed, and engraved materials.

Selling commemorative medals said by society officials to be of marginal scholarly and public interest was at best a stopgap measure. Last year, the Historical Society, founded in 1824, laid off one-third of the employees on a staff described as already bare-bones.

This suggests a broader, deeper, community-driven effort is needed to strengthen this institution. The society is part of an ecosystem of institutions, including the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, that support the city’s status as a global center for historical research. They are stewards of a legacy that belongs to us all.

Read the rest here.

This is What Slouching Into Relativism Looks Like

Watch this video of Jim Bakker and Robert Jeffress on Bakker’s television program (if you can’t see it, I have included a transcript below.

Bakker: “Donald Trump. You think evil of him because he says something you don’t understand. But you know what, the people who hate Trump swear worse than that in the streets every day all the time.

Jeffress: “Let’s get real, every president, with perhaps the exception of Jimmy Carter, every president we’ve had in recent history, Republican or Democrat, has used salty language.

Jeffress is right, but that is not the most revealing part of this exchange.

In this clip, we see two evangelical preachers excuse Trump’s language. One seems to be defending the president’s potty mouth by claiming that his opponents use worse language.  The other one invokes history–“every president has done it.”

This is what slouching into relativism looks like.

Call me old-fashioned, but it would seem that a minister of the Gospel should ALWAYS speak-out against this unholy language when it arises as a topic of discussion in a public forum of this kind.  Perhaps such a minister might reference Colossians 3:8, Ephesians 4:29, or Ephesians 5:4.  Or maybe such a minister would quote James 1:26: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” (Perhaps they did reference these verses or similar ones and Right Wing Watch did not include them in the clip. This is certainly possible).  At the very least, one would think Bakker and Jeffress might shake their heads in disgust when the topic of Trump’s profanity is raised.  Nope–not the court evangelicals.

I am also struck by the fact that Jeffress and Bakker would appear together. These two pastors have many theological differences.  Twenty years ago we probably would not see a dispensationalist (Jeffress) and a prosperity preacher (Bakker) chatting-it-up on the same program.  But Trump-love has a strange way of bringing people together and forming bonds of fellowship within the conservative evangelical church.  Somehow I don’t think this was the source of Christian unity that Jesus had in mind in John 17.

The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention is Investigating Russell Moore

Dr._Russell_D._Moore

There are a lot of Southern Baptists who do not like Russell Moore‘s leadership of the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  It looks like court evangelical and Texas pastor Jack Graham is part of the resistance.  Here is a taste of Yonat Shimron’s piece at Religion News Service:

Jack Graham believes in the Southern Baptist Convention.

He’s a former president of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and once traveled the country drumming up support for the Cooperative Program, the church giving program that funds much of the convention’s missions.

Yet, after three years, Graham’s congregation, Prestonwood Baptist Church, which claims 45,000 members, started to withhold money from the SBC. At issue: Graham’s disagreement with Russell Moore, Southern Baptist ethicist and Never Trumper, who once referred to Donald Trump as “an arrogant huckster.”

Graham, one of the president’s evangelical advisers, felt that Moore’s criticisms of Trump and his evangelical supporters was out of bounds. He didn’t want his church’s dollars to support Moore’s work at the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Prestonwood eventually starting sending money to the SBC again. But it has opted out of funding the ERLC, which Graham thinks has outlived its usefulness.

“The focus of the ERLC is not the focus of the mainstream of the SBC in terms of its approach to politics, to conservative thought and theology,” Graham told RNS in a phone interview this week.

Graham is not alone. About 100 of the denomination’s 46,000 churches said they would withhold funds from the Cooperative Program because of the ERLC back in 2017, according to published reports. Since that time, more churches have threatened to do the same, according to leaders of the SBC’s Executive Committee.

Mike Stone, chair of the Executive Committee, said this week that committee members have heard anecdotal evidence that churches are displeased with the ERLC and withholding money. So the committee voted to launch a new task force to review the ERLC to see if it is fulfilling its “ministry assignment” or if its actions have threatened donations to the cooperative program.

Graham said that the Executive Committee made the right move. He has long believed that Southern Baptists should “address the direction of the ERLC and the disposition of its leader, Russell Moore.”

Read the rest here.

Graham says that Moore is outside the “mainstream of the SBC in terms of its approach to politics, to conservative thought and theology.”  Last time I checked, Moore believes in the Baptist Faith and Message, a 2000 doctrinal statement adopted by the SBC in the wake of the fundamentalist takeover of the denomination in the 1980s and 1990s.  The Baptist Faith and Message requires Southern Baptist leaders to believe, among other things, in the inerrancy of the Bible and a complementary view of gender roles.

But this is apparently not enough for some Southern Baptists.  What does Graham mean when he says that Moore’s politics are outside the mainstream?  Is this a reference to the fact that Moore is a vocal critic of Donald Trump?  This is significant in the sense that politics is now dividing the largest Protestant denomination in North America, a denomination that has historically championed the separation of church and state.

And what about Graham’s reference to “conservative thought?”  Does one have to believe that the Bible and conservative political ideology are compatible in order to hold a leadership position in the Southern Baptist Convention? If Graham represents the mainstream of the Southern Baptist Convention, then I think it is fair to say that the thoughts of Southern Baptists are is no longer captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), but captive to a Trumpian brand of conservative GOP politics.  It looks like the SBC is ready for another rupture.

ADDENDUM: February 21, 2020 at 11:23:

A helpful correction from a Twitter follower.  I changed the title of this post:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

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. Conservative African American Intellectuals Respond to The New York Times 1619 Project
  2. What Does the Bible Say About the Antichrist?
  3. Episode 63: The 1619 Project
  4. The Problem With the “Reluctant” Trump Voter: A Response to Andrew Walker’s National Review Essay
  5. Religion News Service: “The Problem With the ‘Reluctant Trump’ Vote
  6. Why You Should Read the Opening Paragraph of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August
  7. Mother Jones Profiles Court Evangelical Paula White
  8. On Reclining Airline Seats
  9. What Might We Expect in a Trump Second Term?
  10. With Katherine Stewart at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore

The “Ethic of Being”

Image of God

This week in Created and Called for Community at Messiah College we are exploring the Judeo-Christian creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2.  On Monday we read the scriptural text and yesterday we discussed Old Testament theologian Bruce Birch‘s essay “In the Image of God” from his book (with Larry L. Rasmussen) The Predicament of the Prosperous

Birch begins his essay with a story:

A socially committed pastor once said to me after I had spoken on biblical understandings of hunger issues, “That was interesting, but we really don’t have time to be reading the Bible.  People are starving out there.”

I asked my students to respond to this story.  Some of them related to this pastor.  Others, it was clear to me, had never thought deeply about social issues and thus could not relate to the pastor’s sense of urgency.

Birch continues:

…Christian social witness in our time has become chiefly identified with the “doing” side of the Christian moral life. “What shall we do about _____? ”  You can fill in any issue of concern: peace, racism, poverty.  The emphasis is on decision-making, strategy, and action…The Bible, however, does not make decisions for us or plan courses of action.  Attempts to use the Bible as a rule book are not very successful.  There are, of course, broad moral imperatives, such as the command to love our neighbor, which are of central importance, but the church is left with the struggle to decide what the loving act toward the neighbor might be in a given situation.  Many issues our society faces–nuclear war, environmental damage–were not anticipated at all by the biblical communities.  Even when we share a common concern with those communities, such as feeding the hungry, we must make decisions and take actions in a complex global economic system totally unlike anything imagined in the biblical tradition.

While it took a few minutes for my Christian students to get beyond the idea that “attempts to use the Bible as a rule book are not very successful,” we all agreed with Birch that the scriptures do not offer specific strategies, action steps, or policies for how to deal with pressing social issues in the world.  Instead, I suggested, the Bible offers what I called (for lack of a better term) “first principles” for building specific responses to social concerns in a “complex” 21st-century world.

Birch writes:

Does this make the Bible remote or irrelevant to our Christian social concern?  By no means!  Alongside the concern for the ethics of “doing” lies an ethics of “being.”  Christian social concern requires not only that we ask what we should do in a broken world but also that we ask who we are to be.  The shaping of decision-makers is as important as the shaping of the decision.  As we enter and are nurtured by the Christian community, we form values, perspectives, and perceptions that inform our deciding and acting.  The identity we bring with us as Christians deeply affects our participation in ministering to a broken world.

There was a lot to think about here.  We returned to Birch’s story about the socially-conscious pastor.  While Messiah College is committed to service, and students will get multiple opportunities to serve during their years as a student, Messiah is fundamentally a Christian college–a place of intellectual and spiritual formation.  College is a unique experience.  It is a time to think, learn, and study.  Stanley Hauerwas and John Henry Newman have already taught us that college is a time to prepare for a life of service to the church and the world.  Students should not feel guilty about spending more time thinking and reflecting about the world than they do acting in the world.  The time to act will come, but right now they need to learn who they are.  They need to think about what Birch calls the “ethics of being.”

So who are we?  What does the Christian tradition teach us about what it means to be “human? At this point I introduced my students to the word “humanism.” Back when I was a college student at an evangelical school, “humanism” had a negative connotation.  It was often preceded by the adjective “secular.” Secular humanists, we were told, lurked around every corner trying to undermine Christianity and convince young people to abandon their faith. Secular humanism was the work of the devil. It was corroding Christian values.  We studied “apologetics” in order to intellectually defeat secular humanism.

But I was pleasantly surprised to learn only one student–a thirty or forty-something non-traditional student–knew what I meant when I referenced “secular humanism.” The fact that my students did not come with the cultural war baggage of the 1980s and 1990s allowed us to explore more freely the historic meaning of humanism–the study of what it means to be a human being in this world.

Any exploration of Judeo-Christian humanism should begin in Genesis 1 and 2.

Birch spends a significant part of his essay interpreting this passage. We did not have time to examine all of his exegesis, so I tried to narrow our discussion to a few of his points.  Birch writes:

We know the God of blessing not only as the Creator who called the world into being but in the ongoing reliability of the created order and in the divine presence that sustains life in all its week-to-week rhythms.  This aspect of God is present with us in all moments and is universally known by all humanity.  God’s intentions in creation is for all to experience shalom, a Hebrew word meaning wholeness.

We talked about shalom.  Some students identified it as a greeting.  Others associated it with “peace.” I asked them to call out some antonyms for “peace” and they responded with words like “chaos,” “war,” “conflict,” and “division.”  Indeed war, conflict, and division undermine shalom.  These things rip at the wholeness God intended for His creation.

Birch then offers four themes from Genesis 1 and 2 to help us think about “what it means to be given life as a creature and to live that life in relationship to God and the rest of the created order.”

  1. Humanity is created in the image of God.  On Monday, during our discussion of Genesis 1:26-27, I introduced students to the idea of Imago Dei. The Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, as New Testament scholar Scot McKnight shows us, translates the word behind “image” with the word eikon.  We talked about the role of “icons” in Christian worship.  Icons are paintings, statues, or figures that aid us in our devotion to God.  Genesis 1 teaches us that we are living eikons.  Much in the same way that monuments try to help us understand more fully what happened in a particular historic place, the creation story teaches us that our lives are monuments–eikons that should point people toward a deeper understanding of God.  We are image bearers. I told my students that the larger culture will try to tell them who they are, but Genesis 1 and 2 will always remind of them of their true identity.
  2. Genesis 1 and 2 also affirms the “goodness of creation.”  God did not create everything in His image, but everything God created is “good.” We talked a bit about the implications of this truth for our relationship with the animal kingdom and the environment.
  3. This passage also reminds us of the “interrelatedness of creation.” As Birch writes, “We are created for relationship to God, to others, and to nature.” In a college or university such “interrelatedness” manifests itself in the liberal arts curriculum and the way it challenges students to see the connectedness (to use Ernest Boyer’s phrase) of their general education coursework.
  4. Finally, Birch warns us about what he calls “the distortion of hierarchical thinking about creation.”  Over the centuries, Christians have misused “God’s commission giving humanity dominion over the earth” in such a way that has led to “a hierarchical  understanding that divided the relationship of the human to God and to nature.”  Birch adds: “Early in the history of the Christian church a subdivided hierarchy became the standard: God, males, females, other races than white, Jews, animals, plants, and the earth itself.  This hierarchical understanding of creation became the foundation for entire superstructures of racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism.”

This last theme was the perfect way to open-up a discussion of the final section of Birch’s essay: “The Brokenness of Creation.” We are created in the image of God and called to pursue relationships with God and His “good” creation. But Genesis 3 teaches us that we are also sinners who have abused the human freedom God has given to us. “Sin,” Birch writes, “is the word we use to describe how shalom, wholeness, gets broken.” Or to use McKnight’s phrase, we are “cracked eikons.”  I wish we had more time to discuss the implications of sin, but there will be other opportunities later in the class.

In the end, I encouraged the students to see this discussion of Genesis 1 and 2 (with the help of Bruce Birch) as a starting point for both future class discussions and all of their future college work.  If time permitted, I would have asked students to think about what this “ethic of being” might mean for their college majors.  How does the fact that we are simultaneously image-bearers and sinners help us think about our disciplines and professions? (I tried to do this for the field of history in my book Why Study History?).  And how, in the wake of the Cross and the Resurrection, might we work to restore shalom to a broken creation?

Tomorrow we are reading James Weldon Johnson’s poem The Creation.  Follow along here.

When Bernie Sanders Tried to “Primary” Barack Obama

Sanders and Obama

Here is a taste of Edward-Isaac Dovere’s piece at The Atlantic, The Hidden History of Sanders’s Plot to Primary Obama“:

Bernie Sanders got so close to running a primary challenge to President Barack Obama that Senator Harry Reid had to intervene to stop him.

It took Reid two conversations over the summer of 2011 to get Sanders to scrap the idea, according to multiple people who remember the incident, which has not been previously reported.

That summer, Sanders privately discussed a potential primary challenge to Obama with several people, including Patrick Leahy, his fellow Vermont senator. Leahy, alarmed, warned Jim Messina, Obama’s presidential reelection-campaign manager. Obama’s campaign team was “absolutely panicked” by Leahy’s report, Messina told me, since “every president who has gotten a real primary has lost a general [election].”

David Plouffe, another Obama strategist, confirmed Messina’s account, as did another person familiar with what happened. (A spokesman for Leahy did not comment when asked several times about his role in the incident.)

Messina called Reid, then the Senate majority leader, who had built a strong relationship with Sanders but was also fiercely defensive of Obama. What could you be thinking? Reid asked Sanders, according to multiple people who remember the conversations. You need to stop.

Read the rest here.

On Reclining Airline Seats

Watch:

First, the guy in the viral video responded the wrong way.  You never hit someone’s seat this way.  It is inappropriate behavior.

Second, I understand why this guy was upset.  When someone reclines it becomes nearly impossible to do any work or eat.  A someone who is 6’8″, I wish more people would realize that I have virtually no room in the seat to begin with and the space only gets smaller when a seat reclines.

Third, because of my height, it is virtually impossible for someone in front of me to recline their seat because my knees will not permit it.  I have sat behind people who have tried to recline multiple times only to turn around and give me a dirty look.  I usually just apologize and tell them that there is nothing I can do because I am 6’8″.

I hate flying.

VOX Profiles Wendell Berry

Berry Farm

Hope Reese has written a nice introduction to Wendell Berry and his place-centered, agrarian ideas.  Here is a taste:

Bill McKibben’s environmental activism was spurred after his wife gave him a copy of Berry’s 1979 essay collection Home Economics, which offered ideas on how we can live a simple and grounded life at home. “There’s no writer working in the English language I admire as much,” McKibben says.

For the author Barbara Kingsolver, he’s something more: A fellow Kentuckian whose writings she turned to, she wrote in an email, “after I left home and learned with a shock that the outside world looks down on us.

“Decade after decade, I keep running up against the bigotry of American mainstream culture against Appalachians, farmers, and rural life, and I always come back to Wendell for solace,” she wrote. “Quietly and without bitterness he brings me home to myself, reminding me that all the ‘hillbilly elegies’ in the world can’t touch the strength of our souls or the poetry of our language.”

Berry is now at work on a book about race, a follow-up of sorts to one he wrote 50 years ago called The Hidden Wound. “The conversation about race has become really degraded,” he says. “It has been reduced to slogans and stereotypes.” His new book will address the removal of Confederate monuments as well as “deal with the persistence of slavery” — Berry’s great-grandparents, in fact, owned slaves — and the idea that this ended when the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, he says.

Read the entire piece here.

My Interview With Chauncey DeVega at *Salon*

Believe Me 3dLast month I had a long phone conversation about Trump and evangelicals with Chauncey DeVega, politics staff writer for Salon.  I appreciate Chauncey’s work in editing and clarifying my scattered and somewhat random thoughts into a coherent interview which Salon published today.  Here is his introduction to the interview:

To quote the bumper sticker: “What would Jesus do?”

Assuming that he existed and held the views imputed to him, Jesus Christ would not support Donald Trump.

Donald Trump’s behavior, values, policies and their consequences are the opposite of what Jesus Christ represented. Trump has put migrants and refugees in cages and delighted in their suffering. He feels contempt for the poor, the sick, the vulnerable and the needy. He has lied at least 16,000 times. He is corrupt and wildly greedy.

Donald Trump is violent, a militarist, a nativist and a white supremacist. He has given aid and comfort to anti-Semites, neo-Nazis and other hate-mongers.

We are told that Jesus Christ lived a life of love, humility and sacrifice. Donald Trump has lived a life of selfishness, greed and wanton cruelty.

Why are white evangelical Christians so overwhelmingly supportive of Donald Trump? While some have tried to present it as a riddle with no evident solution, the answer is quite simple: Donald Trump does the bidding of the Christian right. He has advanced its policies in a war against secular society, women’s freedom, LGBTQ rights, multiracial democracy and the U.S. Constitution.

But it’s important to note that the Christian evangelical community is not a monolith. There are many people within it who oppose Donald Trump and his movement, because they see it as antithetical to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

One such voice is historian John Fea, a professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. His new book is “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.” Fea recently published an op-ed in USA Today entitled “‘Evangelicals for Trump’ was an awful display by supposed citizens of the Kingdom of God,” in which he explained that he had spent his “entire adult life in the evangelical community” following a “born-again experience” at age 16:

Read the entire introduction and the entire interview here.

Religion News Service: “The Problem With the ‘Reluctant Trump’ Vote”

Trump and BIble

Regular readers of the blog will remember this piece from last week.  Religion News Service picked-up a slightly revised version.  Here is a taste:

(RNS) — In a much-discussed piece published last week (Feb. 10) by the National Review, Andrew Walker, an ethicist at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, challenges anti-Trump evangelicals to work harder at understanding why so many of their fellow believers voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and will vote for him again in 2020.

If anti-Trumpers would empathize more deeply with the motivations of evangelical Trump voters, Walker suggests, they would be less critical of the conservative Protestants who voted for this corrupt president.

I have spent a lot of time over the last three years thinking about the evangelical embrace of Trump. One of the regrets I had about the first edition of my 2018 book, “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” was my failure to capture the diversity that exists among the 81% of white evangelicals who pulled a lever for the president in 2016.

In the postscript for the recently released paperback edition, I sought to correct this lack of nuance. As Walker reminds us, not all evangelical Trump voters attend the president’s rallies or wear “Make America Great Again” caps. The narrative of evangelicals’ support for the president is more complicated than the one peddled by journalists and pundits, who, as Walker pointed out, have little understanding of evangelical political culture.

Walker calls our attention to the “reluctant Trump voter” — the conservative evangelical who is appalled by Trump’s immorality, yet would rather vote for a pro-life candidate and defender of religious liberty over a pro-choice Democrat who is not sensitive to the religious freedom issues that concern evangelicals most. “Even the most convinced progressive,” Walker wrote, “should sympathize with religious conservatives who are concerned about federal law possibly turning against them.”

Read the rest here.

Conservative African American Intellectuals Respond to *The New York Times* 1619 Project

Woodson

Bob Woodson

The World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) is calling attention to Episode 63 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  This is our interview with Kings College (PA) history professor Thomas Mackaman, a critic of The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project.  Mackaman is the historian who interviewed several prominent American historians–Gordon Wood, James McPherson, Victoria Bynum, James Oakes, Richard Cawardine, Clayborne Carson–who criticized the history behind the project.

Last week another source of criticism emerged.  The Woodson Center, a conservative nonprofit that “helps community and faith-based organizations solve issues facing their communities,” has announced the “1776 Project.”  Here is a description:

“1776″ is an assembly of independent voices who uphold our country’s authentic founding virtues and values and challenge those who assert America is forever defined by its past failures, such as slavery. We seek to offer alternative perspectives that celebrate the progress America has made on delivering its promise of equality and opportunity, and highlight the resilience of its people. Our focus is on solving problems. We do this in the spirit of 1776, the date of America’s true founding.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Woodson Center founder and president Bob Woodson said, “Most of the contributors of the 1619 Project purport to speak for all of black America with a false and harmful narrative, one that perpetuates victimhood and ignores successes…Through 1776, we choose to highlight America’s promise and to elevate the inspiring stories of blacks who rose and achieved and thrived–in spite of prejudice.”

Woodson has gathered a group of “top black academics, columnists, social service providers, business leaders, and clergy from across America who are committed to telling the complete history of America and black Americans from 1776 to present with a look to the future in answer to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous question, ‘Where do we go from here.'” The list includes Clarence Page, Shelby Steele, and John McWhorter.  It is worth noting that there are no historians on the list.  This should raise some red flags.

Watch the press conference here.  Check out the 1776 website here.

With Katherine Stewart at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore

The Power WorshippersOn March 12, 2020, author Katherine Stewart will be at the Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg to discuss her new book The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.  I will be interviewing her at the event.  Learn more here.

Here is a description of The Power Worshippers:

For too long the Religious Right has masqueraded as a social movement preoccupied with a number of cultural issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage. But in her deeply reported investigation, Katherine Stewart reveals a disturbing truth: America’s Religious Right has evolved into a Christian nationalist movement. It seeks to gain political power and to impose its vision on all of society. It isn’t fighting a culture war, it is waging a political war on the norms and institutions of American democracy.

Stewart shows that the real power of the movement lies in a dense network of think tanks, advocacy groups, and pastoral organizations, embedded in a rapidly expanding community of international alliances with like-minded, anti-democratic religious nationalists around the world, including Russia. She follows the money behind the movement and traces much of it to a group of super-wealthy, ultraconservative donors and family foundations. The Christian nationalist movement is far more organized and better funded than most people realize. It seeks to control all aspects of government and society. Its successes have been stunning, and its influence now extends to every aspect of American life, from the White House to state capitols, from our schools to our hospitals.

The Power Worshippers is a brilliantly reported book of warning and a wake-up call. Stewart’s probing examination demands that Christian nationalism be taken seriously as a significant threat to the American republic and our democratic freedoms.

I hope to see some of you on March 12 in Harrisburg.

*Mother Jones* Profiles Court Evangelical Paula White

donald-trump-and-pastor-paula-white

Here is a taste of Stephanie Mencimer’s piece “How Do You Get from the Trailer Park to a White House Job?”:

At the Supernatural Ministry School, White deftly offered the audience the secret of her success. “How did I get to the White House from the trailer?” she asked. The answer, of course, was by giving money to God by way of the church—and she’s not talking about tossing the weekly pin money in the offering plate. Securing Paula White, White House-caliber blessings would require students of the supernatural to give a “First Fruits” offering, one that is significant—the first week’s pay, say, or even the first month’s pay—to signify putting God first in everything. White claimed during the sermon that God once told her that in 2009, a particularly bad year, she needed to give her entire annual salary to God—$8 million.

She broke it all down for her congregants, making it simple: If they prioritize their paychecks for more earthly needs, like keeping the lights on, they were treating Florida Power and Light (FPL) like God himself. “Instead of writing [that check] to the house of God as I’m instructed to, then what I’m saying spiritually is, ‘FPL, I have now established a spiritual law that put you first. So, FPL, save my family, FPL, deliver my drug addicted son. FPL, kill this cancer that doctors say is in my body.’”

Over the next half hour, White built to a crescendo, shed many tears, spoke in tongues, and implored people to give. Hundreds of people streamed down the aisles to throw envelopes of money at her feet. “The First Fruits sets the pattern and establishes the destiny for what is left,” she cried. “Many of you need to bring a First Fruit offering right now!” Mostly Latino apostles and prophets from the church brought baskets to the front to collect the offerings. No one from King Jesus responded to questions from Mother Jones about where the donations went.

Read the entire piece here.

What Might We Expect in a Trump Second Term?

Trump Iowa

Several political observers and writers weigh-in at New York Magazine.

  1. Impeachment Redux
  2. A Politics of Pure Revenge
  3. The Justice Department Brought to Heel
  4.  A Big Tech Detente
  5. The Death of Global Climate Efforts
  6. More Hunger
  7. MAGA Budgets
  8. Silly Television
  9. A Democratic Party in Revolt
  10. A More Vulnerable Electoral College
  11. Nuclear Brinkmanship
  12. Extraordinary Stress
  13. Red State Entertainment
  14. Escalating Trade Wars
  15. Escalating Self-Dealings
  16. A Generation of Judges
  17. A Crisis of Faith
  18. The Wall, Abandoned
  19. Don Jr. 2024

Read the entire piece here.

What Would George Washington Think About President’s Day Sales?

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Oh how times have changed since this the days of this 1890s sign!

According to historian David Head at USA Today, Washington would have loved President’s Day sales!

Presidents Day, like most American holidays, is a celebration of shopping. But unlike holidays such as Christmas or Thanksgiving, where the commercial spirit is a corruption of the holiday’s true purpose, Presidents Day honors a man who truly loved to shop: George Washington.

Washington was a world class shopper. Of course, he couldn’t ride his horse over to Walmart, and there was no Amazon Prime to deliver. Instead, Washington ran an account with a London merchant who sold his tobacco and then used the proceeds to buy the things he wanted. Washington placed his orders and then waited, sometimes up to a year, for his goods to arrive.

Despite the inconvenience, Washington was a regular customer. He bought a Macy’s worth of hats, shirts, coats, gloves, breeches, stockings and shoes and enough furniture, home decorations, cups, saucers, plates and glasses to rival an IKEA.

Read the rest here.

Was Abraham Lincoln America’s First “Green” President?

Lincoln socialist

James Tackach of Roger Williams University, author of the book Lincoln and the Natural Environment, thinks so.  Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo disagrees.  Here is a taste of Hannah Nathanson’s Washington Post piece, “Lincoln’s Forgotten Legacy as America’s First “Green President“:

It is “eminently fair” to label Lincoln the nation’s first “green president,” said Tackach, the author of “Lincoln and the Natural Environment,” which explores the famous president’s relationship with nature. While in office, Lincoln enacted several pieces of legislation — including the Yosemite Grant Act, which set aside thousands of acres of California forest — that laid the groundwork for future U.S. efforts to preserve, protect and study the environment, historians said. The Yosemite Act in particular proved crucial, helping inspire Theodore Roosevelt to expand America’s national parks system.

Lincoln was spurred to act by the massive destruction inflicted on the American landscape by the Civil War; by his own love for nature; and by early warnings from some authors and politicians that human activity could damage the natural world, Tackach said. He was likely the first U.S. president to face these kinds of reports, according to historian Vernon Burton.

“Noted writers start to write about deforestation, over-hunting, certain species being wiped out, and you see Lincoln learning from that [and] trying to do something about it,” said Burton, a Clemson University professor of history and author of “The Age of Lincoln.” “He becomes aware of that, he’s trying to do something about it when he dies.”

Lincoln’s love affair with nature began during his childhood — spent in a dirt-floor log cabin located in “extremely rural” countryside, according to Burton. The future president milked cows, cleaned out barns and forked away manure, gaining an intimate knowledge of, and appreciation for, the natural world, Burton said.

That world changed dramatically in the course of Lincoln’s lifetime as the United States underwent rapid industrialization, transitioning from an agricultural society to an urban one. When Lincoln was born in 1809, 90 percent of Americans lived on farms, Tackach said. By the end of the 19th century, only a third did so.

It was a change Lincoln helped fuel.

Lincoln was an avid supporter of “internal improvements”: railroad building, canal construction and other infrastructure projects, according to Tackach. His first political party, the Whigs, saw internal improvements as the keystone of their policy platform.

These kinds of projects undoubtedly had a negative effect on the environment, Tackach said.

Allen Guelzo, a Princeton University historian who has written several books about the president, said he disagreed with the idea that Lincoln was environmentally minded. Guelzo noted that Lincoln was “ardent” on the subject of the Transcontinental Railroad, which he helped build by passing the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862. “Environmentally speaking, a disaster,” Guelzo said.

Even worse, Guelzo said, Lincoln signed into law the Homestead Act of 1862, which allowed any U.S. citizen who had not taken up arms against the Union to claim a 160-acre plot of western land for a small fee. That, too, was an “environmental fiasco,” according to Guelzo.

Read the entire piece here.