*Believe Me* Lands on More “Best Of 2018” Lists

Believe Me 3dOver at First Things John Wilson, bibliophile extraordinaire and former founding editor of the now defunct Books & Culture, lists his “Favorite Books of 2018.” Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump did not make the list.  Or did it?

Here is a taste:

If you’ve followed this list in the past, you know that I huff and puff a bit about its ritual nature. I enter a trance-like state (suburban surrealism!), and book covers begin to swim about in my head, incongruously paired, as beautiful as the canonical chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table. (Consider for instance the first three titles in the list below.) In this reverie—sometimes with snapshots of pages flickering—I jot down titles on the back of an envelope without attempting any sort of “balance” with regard to subject matter or any other criteria. Today’s list would differ at least a bit from a list composed two weeks ago or two weeks hence.

Many books I’ve enjoyed this year are missing, not to mention those that might very well have been included but which I haven’t yet had a chance to read: Uwe Johnson’s Anniversaries, for instance, and Christopher Miller’s study of literary impostors. Many important books are missing; John Fea’s Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump is the most salient example. While I dissent from John’s argument in some respects, I am grateful for his clear, uncompromising witness against the “court evangelicals” toadying to Trump, a witness not restricted to the book itself but amplified in settings all around the U.S. during a months-long book tour.

Read John’s entire list here.

We also made the list of neuropsychologist Jason Kanz!

CCM Comes to a Presidential Funeral

Anyone who attended a Christian college or was part of an evangelical youth group in the 1980s knows this song.   Love it or hate it, Michael W. Smith‘s “Friends” is a Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) classic.  Yesterday I learned that George H.W. Bush also liked the song and asked Smith to perform it as his funeral:

Kate Shellnut has this story covered at Christianity Today.  A taste:

“First and foremost, I hope the song is very honoring of the president because he loved the song,” Smith said in an interview with CT. “The last time I saw him, when we said goodbye, he gave me a hug, pointed his finger in the air, and with a twinkle in his eye, said, ‘Friends are friends forever.’”

The contemporary Christian music (CCM) chart-topper first played for President Bush in the White House after a Christmas special in 1989. They struck up a friendship that led to regular visits to the late president’s home in Kennebunkport, Maine; relationships with the rest of the Bush family; and even travel together.

“He’s just been an inspiration to me,” the three-time Grammy winner said. “We didn’t talk about politics much. But we did have a lot of conversations about God and faith.”

“One thing that tied us together was his relationship with Billy Graham. There were times we would get Billy Graham on the phone and talk,” Smith said, remembering them standing on the deck conversing with the late evangelist, whose memorial service and funeral the singer performed at earlier this year.

Bush requested “Friends,” his favorite song of Smith’s, for his funeral. Smith sang an arrangement with the Armed Forces Chorus, the National Cathedral Choir, and the United States Marine Orchestra.

Read the entire piece here.  I wonder what Trump thought about the song?

And here is the original:

 

 

Par for the Course: Liberty University Hires Hugh Freeze

Freeze

Liberty University, the second largest Christian college in the world, just hired the former disgraced University of Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze to run its football program.  Freeze coached at Ole Miss from 2011-2017.  During his tenure he posted a 39-25 record, beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and got his team to a few prominent bowl games.  The NCAA investigated Freeze and the program for recruiting violations, but from what I can tell the violations were not the primary reason Freeze left the program in July 2017.

Freeze left Ole Miss after the administration learned that he had made a dozen calls to escort services during recruiting trips and he did so from his university phone.  He resigned in disgrace.

Since his resignation, Freeze, a born-again Christian who attends Pine Lake Church, an evangelical megachurch in Oxford, Mississippi, has been trying to rehabilitate his reputation.

In January 2018, Freeze began what some have described as his “redemption tour” on the campus of Liberty.  You can watch his speech (and his wife’s speech) to the students here:

Freeze must have made an impression on Jerry Falwell Jr. that day.

It seems that Falwell Jr. has become the university president of forgiveness and second chances.   In November 2016 he hired Ian McGaw as the university’s athletic director.  Some of you may recall that McGaw lost his athletic director job at Baylor University when he failed to report a a gang rape by Baylor football players.

And let’s not forget that Jerry Falwell Jr is one of the strongest evangelical supporters of Donald Trump, a man who, unlike Freeze, will not ask for forgiveness for his moral indiscretion and infidelity.

Here is a taste of Jason Kirk’s piece at SBNation:

It remains to be seen how Freeze can recruit at Liberty with multiple, interweaving scandals in his background. Lots of coaches have a scandal or even two, but how many have scandals that directly contrast with the entire public image those coaches presented of themselves?

Then again, it’s Liberty, where the school president once said the ex-Baylor AD “fits perfectly.” I don’t think the image that the rest of us see from the outside matters at all, compared to the image the school chooses to see of itself.

Read the entire piece here.

White Evangelicals: An Unmovable Political Force

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Over at Roll Call, Nathan L. Gonzalez reminds us that white evangelicals are one of the most reliable voting blocs in America.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Amid all the talk about shifting demographics and political changes over the last decade, one key voting group has remained virtually unchanged: white evangelicals.

According to one evangelical leader, a record number of white evangelicals voted in the 2018 midterms after an inspired turnout effort.

“This is the most ambitious and most effective voter education, get-out-the-vote program directed at the faith-based vote in a midterm election in modern political history,” Faith & Freedom Coalition President Ralph Reed said the day after the November elections.

But since turnout was up across the board, white evangelicals made up the same percentage of the electorate as they always do.

After ticking up from 23 percent of the electorate in 2004 to 24 percent in 2006 and 26 percent in 2008, the share of the white evangelical vote has been unshaken at 25 percent in 2010, 26 percent in 2012, 26 percent in 2014, and 26 percent in 2016. And in last month’s midterms, white evangelicals made up, you guessed it, 26 percent of the electorate, according to the exit polls

Read the rest here.

As I have been saying over and over again on the Believe Me book tour, Jerry Falwell Sr. may be the most important political figure in post-World War II America because he taught millions of white conservative evangelicals how to execute a particular political playbook and they have been executing it faithfully for almost forty years.

 

In Defense of Trump on the Apostles Creed

Trump creed

Patrick Nugent, a self-described “liberal evangelical” in the Quaker tradition, thinks Trump did the right thing by not reciting the Apostles Creed at the George H.W. Bush funeral.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Washington Post:

The Apostles’ Creed is not just a prayer one can or should recite out of courtesy for the sake of show, good manners or good taste.

The Creed — or any Christian creed — is a statement of belief and a public commitment to very specific, carefully enumerated theological doctrines. It is not a bland, generic greeting-card prayer addressing an impersonal creator, a “force,” “the universe” or “the spirit of goodness” that could conceivably be uttered by anybody of any religious perspective or none at all.

I admit entirely that the Trumps’ abstention could well have been motivated by cluelessness, inattention, bad taste, bad manners, unfamiliarity, distraction or any number of other things. But the bottom line is that they abstained from reciting aloud, in public, a personal commitment to the truth of very specific, classic, ancient Christian doctrines.

The president participated in a public ceremony in his capacity as head of state, not as a Presbyterian (which is how he has identified himself). As such, he has no obligation to declare those theological truths, or any others, aloud in public. In fact, I’d suggest, he has an obligation not to do so if he disagrees with any of them, or all of them, or doesn’t especially care, or isn’t sure, or doesn’t understand — or just thinks the president should be theologically neutral in public.

Read the entire piece here.  What do you think?

Frankly, I think Nugent thinks more highly about Trump’s theological and ecclesiastical astuteness that I do.

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. All He Had to Do Was “Simply Look at the Program and Read”
  2. The President of the Master’s University and Seminary Speaks About His Poor Accreditation Report
  3. Writer Ruth Graham on “Being Ruth Graham”
  4. What is Going at The Master’s University and Seminary?
  5. Evangelical Gaslighting
  6. “Age of Hamilton” Course
  7. The George W. Bush–Michelle Obama Mind Hand-Off
  8. Would Coverage of George H.W. Bush’s Death Look Different if He Did Not Dies in the Age of Trump?
  9. “Contact my be dangerous, but so is no contact”
  10. Richard Ojeda is Running for President in 2020

When the Producer of The Way of Improvement Home Podcast Was Desmond Tutu’s Chaplain

If you listened to Episode 42 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast you may recall producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling talking about his experience serving as a “chaplain” to Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

According to the website of the Episcopal Church, a chaplain is “appointed to serve monarchs, bishops, and the nobility.  Some modern bishops, especially primates, have chaplains.  Some bishops use a ‘bishop’s chaplain’ to assist with ceremonies at episcopal services.”

Here is Drew in action:

chaplain

You will need to listen to the episode for context.

Deconstructing the “Paranoid Style in American Politics”

ParanoidIn the age of Trump, many are saying that we are witnessing a resurgence of a phenomenon that historian Richard Hofstadter once called “the paranoid style of American politics.” Over at The Baffler, UC-Davis historian Kathryn Olmsted traces the history of the “paranoid style” and how it may or may not be employed in today’s political climate.  Here is a taste of her piece:

Hofstadter also highlighted another common trope in right-wing rhetoric that’s relevant to today’s politics: the curious sense of loss among Americans on the right. Their anger, he argued, stemmed from their sense of dispossession, even though many of them were relatively well off. They believed, he said, that “America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion.”

Many scholars today have commented on this sense of dispossession among Trump supporters. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild captured this sentiment in the title of her book on the worldview of rural white voters, Strangers in Their Own Land. The rural white people who Hochschild interviewed felt angry at “line-cutters”: immigrants and people of color who, they believed, had jumped the queue in front of patient, hard-working white Americans like them, and were rewarded with welfare checks and affirmative action jobs. Hofstadter might call this fear that someone will take your place in line—i.e., push you out of your rightful spot in the social order—just another form of status anxiety.

Finally, even back in the 1960s, Hofstadter remarked on the skepticism of science and contempt for expertise among Americans on the right. The paranoid spokesman, he said, was not open to new ideas, scientific studies, or scholarly arguments. “He has all the evidence he needs; he is not a receiver, he is a transmitter.” This phrase could have been written about the most passionate Trump supporters during the 2016 presidential race. The Oxford Dictionaries picked “post-truth” as their word of the year for 2016, or the word “chosen to reflect the passing year in language,” and defined it as circumstances in which “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Trump was not embarrassed that his sources or his facts might be wrong; “All I know is what’s on the internet,” he said at one point during the campaign.

Read the entire piece here.

Did George H.W. Bush Enable the Christian Right?

Bush and Falwell

Yes.

Check out Neil J. Young’s piece at The Washington Post:

Following Wednesday’s state funeral for George H.W. Bush at Washington National Cathedral, the former president’s casket will be flown to Houston where a memorial service will be held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church the following day.

Unlike his son George W. Bush, the elder Bush, a lifelong Episcopalian, was less known for his religious faith. He was certainly not thought of as a champion of the religious right, the powerful political movement most associated with his predecessor, Ronald Reagan.

Yet it was Bush, the moderate establishment Republican whose family helped found Planned Parenthood, who secured the religious right’s permanent place in American politics. While historians largely credit Reagan’s presidency with helping religious conservatives move from the shadows of American public life into its spotlight, it was the Bush presidency, particularly its disappointments and defeat, that entrenched the religious right as the center of the Republican Party and guaranteed its ongoing influence.

From the moment he entered the 1980 Republican presidential primaries, Bush drew the ire of religious right leaders — so much so that people like Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell objected to Reagan’s selection of Bush as his running mate. Conservative organizations tracked Bush closely throughout the primaries, scrutinizing his conservative credentials, reviewing his record and documenting his every misstep. Bush’s questionable history included having written the foreword to a 1973 book advocating the benefits of family planning in developing countries. As a congressman from 1967 to 1971, Bush’s enthusiastic support for federal funding for Planned Parenthood and other family planning groups was so well-known it had garnered him the nickname “Rubbers.”

Read the rest here.

The History Major is in Decline, but not at Yale

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Last week we reported on an American Historical Association study that revealed a 33% decline in the number of history majors in United States colleges and universities.  But this is not the case at Yale.  Here is a taste of Carly Wanna’s piece at Yale News:

Despite national trends, Yale’s undergraduate program remains one of the five most popular majors at Yale, with 129 students declared in the class of 2019 alone.

According to department chair Joanne Meyerowitz, Yale’s Department of History plans to add as many as 11 new professors of history, six of which would focus on non-American and non-European history.

“Yale has a long tradition of a robust history major, and the college places emphasis on the importance of the liberal arts,” Meyerowitz said. “Over the past few years, we’ve made a concerted effort to hire more faculty in African-, Asian- and Latin American history and, more generally, in international and transnational history.”

Read the entire piece here.

Here is my quick take:  Yale graduates get jobs regardless of major simply because of the Yale name and alumni base.  Yale students are thus able to take more risks in choosing a major.  Thoughts?

The Revival of Midwestern History

Midwest

Jon Lauck of the University of South Dakota is one of the growing number of scholars trying to bring back the history of Midwest.  Check out his books:

From Warm Center to Ragged Edge: The Erosion of Midwestern Literary and Historical Regionalism, 1920-1965

The Lost Region: Toward a Revival of Midwestern History

(edited with Gleaves Whitney and Joseph Hogan), Finding a New Midwestern History

Prairie republic: The Political Culture of Dakota Territory, 1879-1889

Over at Perspectives on History, Kritika Agarwal reflects on this subfield.  Here is a taste:

“All of a sudden,” says Jon Lauck, professor of history at the University of South Dakota and past president of the Midwestern History Association (MHA), “people wanted to know why these swing counties around Milwaukee” and states like “Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa . . . went for Trump.” But for Lauck and other historians of the Midwest, the 2016 election was hardly surprising. The Midwest, a growing group of scholars says, is an enormously important region—historically, politically, socially, and culturally. And “if you understood that history,” says Edward Frantz (Univ. of Indianapolis), “you would not have been as shocked in early November 2016 as many of the people elsewhere were.”

The region, as the website of the MHA will tell you, “has suffered from decades of neglect and inattention,” both within and outside of academia. As the introduction of Finding a New Midwestern History(eds. Lauck, Joseph Hogan, and Gleaves Whitney, Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2018) states, “In comparison to such regions as the South, the Far West, and New England, the Midwest and its culture—the history of its people and places; its literature, music, and art; the complexity and richness of its landscapes—has been neglected.” Yet Midwestern history isn’t entirely new.

The earliest historian to pay attention to the region was none other than Frederick Jackson Turner, who in the late 19th century published several essays on “the Middle West.” His work became foundational for a group of scholars whom Lauck dubs the Prairie Historians. Most of them were born in the region; as Lauck writes, they “developed a pattern of thought and a network of personalities, affiliations, and institutions that congealed into an early twentieth-century movement to advance the cause of studying the history of the prairie Midwest.” With an intense commitment to state and local history, the Prairie Historians focused on topics such as colonial settlement, the social and ethnic history of the Midwest, the development of American democracy and populism in the region, and agricultural and rural history.

Read the rest here.

Richard Ojeda is Running for President in 2020

Ojeda

Who the heck is Richard Ojeda?

  • He is a Democratic candidate for President of the United States from West Virginia
  • He lost his election to West Virginia’s Senate in 2018, but made up a 36-point deficit from 2016, making his race the largest voter swing in the midterms.
  • He has 36 tattoos
  • He served 24-years in the U.S. Army as paratrooper and earned two Bronze Stars.
  • He supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary.
  • He voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
  • He supports the legalization of marijuana.
  • He supported the 2017 West Virginia teachers strike.
  • His grandfather was an illegal immigrant from Mexico.
  • Trump once called him a “stone cold crazy wacko.”
  • He supports quadrupling funding for Planned Parenthood.
  • He supports coal and green energy.
  • He favors single-payer health care.
  • He supports firearm background checks and defends the use of AR-15s.
  • He thinks the NRA is “absolute garbage.”
  • He favors a strong military.
  • He favors a plan that would require the President, Vice-President and members of Congress to give all their net worth over a million dollars to charity.
  • Despite his 2016 vote, he has attacked Trump for his “faux regard” for the working class and his broken promises.
  • He plans to run in 2020 on a left-wing populism that includes support of the working poor,  unions and “anti-elitism.”
  • Unlike Bernie Sanders, he is not wealthy and does not own multiple homes.

Read more about him here.

Sully the Dog

Sully

Have you heard about George H.W. Bush’s service dog Sully?  Ruth Graham introduces us to Sully in her recent piece at Slate.  Here is a taste:

In January 2009, a pilot named Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger steered his struggling aircraft to a safe landing in the Hudson River and became a national hero. Almost 10 years later, a dog named for the pilot has become a beloved “hero” in his own right, and he did it for something much simpler: lying down.

On Sunday night, George H.W. Bush spokesman Jim McGrath posted a photograph to Twitter depicting a golden Labrador named Sully resting in front of the former president’s casket. The caption read “Mission complete.”

Within hours, Sully the dog had become a bona fide celebrity. McGrath’s sentiment has been retweeted 61,000 times and counting, and “Sully” was trending on Twitter at various times on Monday. C-SPAN covered the dog’s arrival at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Monday afternoon. The picture of the dog lying in front of the casket was covered by outlets from Fox News to NPR as the internet exploded with tributes to the pair’s “forever friendship.” The photograph was submitted as evidence of Bush’s character, of Sully’s character, and as support for the idea that America should not elect a president who “does not love and is not loved by pets.” Heavy.com offered “5 Fast Facts You Need to Know” about the dog. People magazine gushed that Sully was “keeping the 41st commander in chief safe in death as he did in life,” and even produced a slideshow of their “special friendship.” Many suggested Sully was heartbroken, and/or that they themselves were crying over the photo; conservative writer Dan McGlaughlin compared the dog to a Marine.

Read the rest here.

 

The Slave Societies Digital Archive

Slave Ship

Over at The Conversation, Vanderbilt historian Jane Landers writes about her work on the Slave Societies Digital Archive.  Here is a taste:

This archive, which I launched in 2003, now holds approximately 600,000 images dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Since its creation, the archive has led to new insights into African populations in the Americas.

The Slave Societies Digital Archive documents the lives of approximately 6 million free and enslaved Africans, their descendants, and the indigenous, European and Asian people with whom they interacted.

When searching for and preserving archives, our researchers must race against time. These fast-vanishing records are threatened daily by tropical humidity, hurricanes, political instability and neglect.

The work is usually challenging and sometimes risky. Our equipment has been stolen in several locations. Soon after we left the remote community of Quibdó, Colombia, a gun battle erupted in the surrounding jungles between the government military forces and Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, better known as FARC. It’s no wonder that one of our team members called what we do “guerrilla preservation.”

This hard work has allowed us to discover more about the lives of slaves in the Americas. For example, the Catholic Church mandated the baptism of enslaved Africans in the 15th century. The baptismal records now preserved in the Slave Societies Digital Archive are the oldest and most uniform serial data available for African-American history.

Read the rest here.

*Believe Me* Makes a Few “Best Books of the Year” Lists

Believe Me 3dGreat news.  Historian, public intellectual, and writer Amy Bass has chosen Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump as one of her favorite books of the year written by friends!  See her list here.  Thanks Amy!

Listen to Amy talk about her recent book One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game Brought a Divided Town Together on Episode 33 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Meanwhile, over at The Gospel Coalition, Jared C. Wilson of Midwestern Seminary has picked Believe Me as one of his “top books of 2018.”  Thanks, Jared!

Religion and Presidential Remembrances

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Over at The Washington Post, Kimberly Winston teaches us that much of the pageantry we are seeing surrounding the death of George H.W. Bush has deep spiritual roots.

Here is a taste of her piece:

“The need to create meaningful rituals around death is very deep in our DNA,” said S. Brent Plate, an associate professor of religious studies at Hamilton College. “Death erases some of the dividing elements between religions. It shows us we are all human, all mortal. So this week is about the death of George Bush, but it is really about the collective faith of us all.”

Here is some context for the rituals you will see as the nation pays its last respects to its 41st president:

As Bush’s body traveled to Washington, D.C., from Houston, where he and the late first lady Barbara Bush lived after 1993, it was accompanied all the way. In addition to family and friends, a group of former staffers flew with the body, and an entourage of military service members was always nearby.

Like all presidents, Bush is being given a state funeral, a complicated and highly orchestrated set of military and state traditions that are secular in appearance, but have foundations in religion.

The practice of watching over a body springs from the oldest religious traditions. Scholars say the ancient Romans took the custom with them as they conquered the Mediterranean and Europe. By the Middle Ages, the practice was wrapped into Christianity and came with the first European settlers to the New World.

Read the rest here.