The Trump Administration is Reading American History

Trump and FDR

It looks the Trump administration now thinks American history might be important.  Here is Gabby Orr at Politico:

When the avian flu first spread to pockets of Southeast Asia in 2005, President George W. Bush reassured Americans he would be prepared if the viral infection reached the United States.

“I have thought through the scenarios of what an avian flu outbreak could mean,” Bush informed the public at a news conference in the White House Rose Garden that October, noting his recent dive into a book on pandemics.

It was John M. Barry’s “The Great Influenza,” a meticulous account of the Spanish flu, which claimed an estimated 675,000 American lives a century ago. Bush had read a copy while vacationing at his Prairie Chapel Ranch in Texas.

Now, as a new virus wreaks havoc on the United States — leaving hospitals overwhelmed, businesses shuttered and at least 10 million Americans suddenly unemployed in just two weeks — some Trump officials are replicating the former president’s approach. Desperate for insight into how to respond to a staggering death toll and deep recession, the White House machinery is digging through American history for answers, hoping that somewhere in 2½ centuries of war, economic volatility, resilience and patriotism they might find analogs to help rally the nation and protect their boss’ legacy.

Deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger finished a copy of Barry’s sobering narrative himself in early January, when the first cases of Covid-19 spread beyond mainland China.

A senior speechwriter for one Cabinet official read and then reread Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address — a powerful sermon on hope in the midst of the Great Depression, best known for Roosevelt’s declaration that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Read the entire piece here.

The books and documents Trump’s staff are reading were written and curated by historians who spend time conducting research to reconstruct the past. These scholars need support. I wonder if Trump will connect his staff’s reading of American history during this crisis with funding for the humanities. I’m not holding my breath. Trump has been trying to cut such funding since he got into office.

Francis Collins on Faith, Science, and Coronavirus

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Collins is the director of the National Institutes of Health and a devout Christian. Over at The Washington Post religion page, Sarah Pulliam Bailey talks with Collins about the coronavirus.  Here is a taste of the interview:

Have you seen resistance from faith leaders over public-health messages about the coronavirus?

I would think the church would resonate with messages of social distancing, given that the church has always been trying to look out for those who are most vulnerable. And yet it still does seem as if in some instances that hasn’t quite filtered down, maybe because there has been some suggestion that there’s a political aspect of this pandemic, which is truly unfortunate, because there’s not.

There is a lot of false information out there on social media to suggest that maybe this isn’t as bad as it is and maybe there are no risks going to church or gathering outside of church. Those are dangerous activities that might not put you at risk if you’re young and healthy, but you might pass it to somebody else who could potentially get very sick or even die.

What do you think faith leaders could be doing from a public-health perspective right now?

There’s a natural instinct for people of faith who are loving and wish to give themselves to others who are hurting to rush in the direction of people who are vulnerable or who are suffering. And over the course of many centuries, people of faith have, to their great credit, put themselves in harm’s way.

Right now, they could focus their efforts on trying to supply, nurture and support all of their flock who are struggling right now. This is stressful. This may lead to people having fears, anxiety and other mental-health issues. Pastors ought to be doing everything they can to maintain that connection but not put people at risk.

How are you thinking about your own faith in the middle of all of this?

It’s a challenge. One does not like to see happening across the whole world a sudden outbreak of the sort that will cause enormous suffering and early deaths for so many people. It is hard to get your head around that. I guess I find myself more engaged in prayer than usual. I’m just trying to, in some small way, trying to get in touch with all of this and what my role ought to be. It is heartbreaking. I am glad I have the faith that I can lean on in this circumstance, but I have questions that don’t have good answers. I know how this happens scientifically. I ask God for help for all those who are suffering and grieving.

Read the entire interview here.

Former Fundamentalists Await the Apocalypse

Rapture 2

Today a piece by Sarah Jones at New York Magazine caught my attention. Here is a taste of “Apocalypse Now?”:

If you think it feels like the end of the world, you’re not alone. There is a pandemic. Donald Trump is the president. Hospitals don’t have enough ventilators, and the lieutenant governor of Texas thinks your grandmother should give up the ghost so that you can go back to your job. We keep hearing that the virus will peak, but nobody seems to know exactly when that will happen, or how long we’ll all be inside, or how many people will die before this is all over. The coronavirus isn’t the End, but its escalating horrors feel somewhat familiar.

Since the pandemic commenced, I have wondered if my fundamentalist upbringing might be useful. For American Evangelicals, the ’90s were the era of apocalyptic fantasia. Almost everyone I knew believed that Christ would return soon, and rapture his saints into heaven to spare them the death throes of the world.

So I called up a few friends. Like me, they grew up Evangelical or fundamentalist, with the same basic convictions about the imminent demise of humanity. I wanted to know if their old beliefs had emotionally prepared them for our moment of woe, or if they had simply become more anxious than usual. In the most secret regions of my brain I wondered, too, if they missed any of it, because sometimes I do. Believing in Armageddon was an act of catharsis. It promised relief. In the near-future, my suffering would cease and so, too, would the pain of the world. (Alas! God has stranded me here, on Post Malone’s planet, and I’m suffering right along with the rest of you.)

Read the entire piece here.

Why Do People Need More Toilet Paper?

Toilet

Will Oremus’s piece at Marker makes perfect sense. A taste:

There’s another, entirely logical explanation for why stores have run out of toilet paper — one that has gone oddly overlooked in the vast majority of media coverage. It has nothing to do with psychology and everything to do with supply chains. It helps to explain why stores are still having trouble keeping it in stock, weeks after they started limiting how many a customer could purchase.

In short, the toilet paper industry is split into two, largely separate markets: commercial and consumer. The pandemic has shifted the lion’s share of demand to the latter. People actually do need to buy significantly more toilet paper during the pandemic — not because they’re making more trips to the bathroom, but because they’re making more of them at home. With some 75% of the U.S. population under stay-at-home orders, Americans are no longer using the restrooms at their workplace, in schools, at restaurants, at hotels, or in airports.

Georgia-Pacific, a leading toilet paper manufacturer based in Atlanta, estimates that the average household will use 40% more toilet paper than usual if all of its members are staying home around the clock. That’s a huge leap in demand for a product whose supply chain is predicated on the assumption that demand is essentially constant. It’s one that won’t fully subside even when people stop hoarding or panic-buying.

Read the entire piece here

Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here is the most popular post of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

  1. What is Wrong With the Governor of Georgia?
  2. The “My Pillow” Guy’s Comments at Yesterday’s Press Conference Represent Everything Wrong With the Public Witness of the Christian Right
  3. The Attacks on Samaritan’s Purse Reveal a Fundamental Misunderstanding of Evangelical Relief Work
  4. Former Liberty University Executive on Jerry Falwell Jr. “He doesn’t think anyone should be able to tell him what to do, and he’s going to do whatever he wants…”
  5. Robert Jeffress suggests that Tim Keller is a “wimpy Christian” who has “cloaked his “cowardice in theology”
  6. Who is Tending to Trump’s Soul?
  7. “Nearly a dozen” Liberty University students are “sick with symptoms that suggest Covid-19…”
  8. On December 20, 2016 an Atlantic  Writer Wondered How a Pandemic Might Play Out Under Trump
  9. “Fox, the whole Fox, and nothing but the Fox”
  10. Rodney Howard-Browne Arrested for Holding Services on Sunday

 

What is Wrong With the Governor of Georgia?

Virus Outbreak Georgia

Here is CNN, located in Atlanta:

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said on Wednesday that new information on the spread of coronavirus influenced his decision to issue a stay-at-home order. In particular, Kemp pointed to what he said was the recent discovery that the virus can be spread by people who are not exhibiting symptoms.

“What we’ve been telling people from directives from the CDC for weeks now that if you start feeling bad stay home, those individuals could have been infecting people before they ever felt bad. But we didn’t know that until the last 24 hours,” said Kemp, a Republican.

Facts First: It’s not true that people didn’t know “until the last 24 hours” that individuals without symptoms could be infecting people with coronavirus. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said in mid-February that asymptomatic transmission of coronavirus was possible. Furthermore, studies from as early as January showed cases of coronavirus spreading amongst people with no symptoms.

Kemp’s press secretary said the governor was referring to an update that the CDC made to its guidance on March 30 that indicated there’s a higher risk of people without symptoms passing on the virus. The updated guidance changed the period of exposure risk for individuals from “onset of symptoms” to “48 hours before symptom onset.”

As more has been learned about the virus, several experts told CNN last month that it’s become clear that transmission by people who are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic is responsible for more transmission than previously thought.

Read the rest here.

We have known for two months that asymptomatic people can spread coronavirus. This is pure incompetence. As Dr. Sanjay Gupta just said on CNN, this governor is dealing with the greatest public health crisis of his life and he is claiming that he just learned this vital information 24 HOURS AGO?

Ideals are Important. So is Life

Samaritan Purse

Some folks on the Left do not want Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical organization that only uses Christian health care workers and volunteers, to have a coronavirus field hospital in Central Park. They say that Samaritan’s Purse discriminates against the LGBTQ community. Since Central Park is a public park, open to all people, Franklin Graham’s ministry should not be allowed to be there. This, it seems to me, would be a legitimate argument if we were not in the midst of a pandemic. When several folks on Twitter called-out the problem of Samaritan Purse working on public property, I asked them to politely explain these concerns to a coronavirus patient who can’t breathe and needs immediate medical attention in order to survive. Ideals are important. So is life.

Some folks on the Right do not want the government telling them that they have to close their churches in the midst of this pandemic. They claim that they have a First Amendment right to worship and assemble. One church has even turned to the former Dean of the Liberty University Law School to defend their right to physically assemble during the pandemic. But at what point do we lay aside this First Amendment right when all the science tells us that coronavirus spreads in crowds? Ideals are important. So is life.

Should the Government Promote Prayer During a Pandemic?: The Case of Andrew Jackson

jackson-portrait

Over at The Washington Post, Harvard historian Joyce Chaplin reflects on how Andrew Jackson handled the the arrival of cholera on American shores.  Here is a taste:

At the time, it was a standard and orthodox belief that any disease was divine punishment. Cholera was supposedly “a rod in the hand of God,” smiting the atheist, the sinner and the non-Protestant immigrant. The suffering was a rebuke and a call to repent. Individuals and communities were, accordingly, told to fast and pray. City officials and state governors received petitions from churches and citizens’ groups to enact days for public prayer and fasting, and many places complied, including at least 11 states.

Despite attempts to convince Jackson to declare a national day of fasting and prayer, he refused. In a widely reprinted letter of June 12, 1832, he agreed with “the efficacy of prayer” but stated that for the United States to have a national day devoted in any way to religion was “transcending the limits prescribed by the Constitution for the president,” a violation of the constitutional protection of freedom of religious belief, including lack of belief.

This was unorthodox. Three previous presidents, George Washington, John Adams and James Madison had, by contrast, recommended fast days during earlier crises. Jackson was by no means an atheist. He was raised in a Presbyterian household and became a member of that denomination later in life. He also understood the dangers of contagious disease. His mother had died, in her early 40s, while nursing Revolutionary War soldiers, having caught “ship fever” from them, probably typhus.

But as a populist and anti-establishment politician, “Old Hickory” distrusted and opposed the college-educated clergy, who were established figures of authority in the 1830s. Jackson and his supporters in the Democratic Party caricatured them as the equivalent of the Catholic clergy ousted (temporarily) by the French revolutionaries: medieval, superstitious remnants who undermined modern democracy. To the Jacksonians, the clergy must, by definition, always be trying to unite church and state, against the clear admonition of the Constitution.

Jackson defied them, and because of that, encouraged growing public support for alternative solutions to epidemics. These included, for example, creating civic boards of health that, with doctors’ advice, would track contagion, disinfect public areas and declare and uphold quarantines. Not all these measures were appropriate against cholera, whose transmission was not yet well understood. But the shift toward secular and civic solutions to epidemics represented a trend that would eventually protect public health.

Here is Chaplin’s conclusion:

Whatever Jackson’s reasons for deriding college-educated clergymen, he endorsed the view that human governance of material forces is a secular business and requires action. President Trump may have made a point of hanging a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office, but his recent actions make him more like Clay. He lacks personal piety but has called for prayer as a response to covid-19. Against the advice of public health experts, he stated a goal to “have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” as if a Christian holiday ought to mark time throughout the nation, before backing away in past few days. Old Hickory is on record as opposing pulling religion into the handling of a pandemic like this. It was an admirable example of how a national leader ought to address a public health crisis — way back in 1832.

Read the entire piece here.

Museum of the Bible Chairman: “The criticism resulting from my mistakes was justified”

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The Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. will return 11,500 antiquities to the Iraqi and Egyptian governments.  Read Gordon Govier piece at Christianity Today.

Here is the press release from the museum’s founder and chairman Steve Green:

Washington, March 26, 2020 – Museum of the Bible’s Chairman of the Board, Steve Green, makes the following statement on past acquisitions:

In 2009, when I began acquiring biblical manuscripts and artifacts for what would ultimately form the collection at Museum of the Bible, I knew little about the world of collecting.  It is well known that I trusted the wrong people to guide me, and unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers in those early years.  One area where I fell short was not appreciating the importance of the provenance of the items I purchased. 

When I purchased items in those early years, dealers would make representations about an item’s provenance, which the consultants I employed would say was sufficient.  As I came to understand taking a dealer at his or her word was not good enough, I cut ties with those consultants.  When I engaged with new advisors, I acquired a better understanding of the importance of verifying provenance and we developed a rigorous acquisitions policy that would help avoid repeating those early mistakes.

For the past several years, the many dedicated curators at Museum of the Bible have quietly and painstakingly researched the provenance of the many thousands of items in the collection.  That work continues. 

While this research was proceeding, beginning in late 2017, we also engaged with officials in several countries, including Egypt and Iraq, to open a dialog regarding items that likely originated from those countries at some point, but for which there was insufficient reliable provenance information.  Those discussions have been fruitful, and continue to this day.    

I long ago made the decision that when our research revealed another party had a better claim to an item, I would do the right thing and deliver such items to that party.  We have already proactively made several such returns. 

Today, I am announcing that we have identified approximately 5,000 papyri fragments and 6,500 clay objects with insufficient provenance that we are working to deliver to officials in Egypt and Iraq respectively.  As discussions with officials in Egypt and Iraq continued, we also engaged with officials in the U.S. government to determine the best way procedurally and logistically to make the deliveries, and are appreciative of their assistance.  We are working to finalize the deliveries in the near future.  We also hope to finalize agreements with organizations in Egypt and Iraq that will allow for us to provide technical assistance, and support the ongoing study and preservation of their important cultural property.

These early mistakes resulted in Museum of the Bible receiving a great deal of criticism over the years.  The criticism resulting from my mistakes was justified.  My goal was always to protect, preserve, study, and share cultural property with the world.  That goal has not changed, but after some early missteps, I made the decision many years ago that, moving forward, I would only acquire items with reliable, documented provenance.  Furthermore, if I learn of other items in the collection for which another person or entity has a better claim, I will continue to do the right thing with those items. 

I understand established museums, universities, and other institutions have evolved over the years and developed sound protocols for dealing with cultural property with insufficient provenance.  I intend to continue to learn from the collective efforts and wisdom of those institutions, and support every person and organization possessing such items to continue their research into the provenance of their items.

Steve Green
Chairman of the Board
Museum of the Bible

On December 20, 2016 an *Atlantic* Writer Wondered How a Pandemic Might Play Out Under Trump

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Here is a taste of Ed Yong’s piece:

As Donald Trump prepares to become America’s 45th President in January 2017, the question isn’t whether he’ll face a deadly outbreak during his presidency, but when? And more importantly, how will he cope?

Outbreaks of disease are among the ultimate tests for any leader who wants to play on the global stage. They demand diplomacy, decisiveness, leadership, humility, and expertise—and they quickly unearth any lack of the same. “As far as I can tell, Trump has zero experience on this,” says Jack Chow from Carnegie Mellon University, who has worked at both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the State Department under Colin Powell. “If I asked him, ‘What is your stance on global health?,’ I don’t know what he’d say. I don’t think anyone really does.”

Bioethicist Art Caplan from the New York University School of Medicine envisages a quick slide towards isolation and authoritarianism. In a blog post that can only be described as pandemic fan-fiction, he imagines that a lethal mutant strain of H7N9 flu emerges in China and spreads to America. A hypothetical President Trump responds with a quick succession of moves: He seals the borders with Canada and Mexico; he quarantines sick Americans; he declares martial law, builds detention-style camps for quarantine-defiers, and uses epidemic conspiracies to launch a trade war with China.

Future years will reveal whether the story is prophetic or far-fetched. For now, we can only speculate, using the president-elect’s own words and actions to predict how he might fare in an outbreak.

We know that international diplomacy is essential during large-scale epidemics. During the Ebola outbreak, the U.S. had to coordinate its aid with the WHO, other donor countries, and hospitals and laboratories in the affected countries. “The rhetoric about building walls and reneging on NATO calls into question how willing the administration would be to work with other countries,” says Elizabeth Radin from Columbia University, who works to improve health in poor nations. “And the phone calls to Taiwan and Pakistan call into question how effective they would be.”

Accurate public communication is also vital. During the Ebola outbreak, misinformation circulated more widely than the virus itself. People repeatedly and wrongly heard that the virus could go airborne, that victims bleed dramatically from their eyes and ears, that foreign health workers brought the virus to West Africa, that folk remedies were effective, and so on. These were all myths, and they encouraged practices that helped the virus to spread in affected countries, while fomenting panic in unaffected ones. They resembled the pernicious and long-debunked claim that vaccines cause autism, which has led to a resurgence in mumps, measles, and other infectious diseases, and which Trump  has himself promoted.

If anything, this problem is likely to get worse, given America’s continuing struggle to deal with “fake news.” Inaccurate information can be easily seeded by foreign parties, and given weight and prominence by online algorithms. It’s arguable whether such misinformation made a difference between victory or defeat in the election, but inarguable that it could mean life or death in an outbreak.

The president-elect is hardly immune. Before, during, and since the election, Trump has had a strained relationship with facts, having repeatedly and reflexively lied about matters both large and small. He has reportedly failed to seek advice from the State Department before calling foreign leaders. He is avoiding most of his daily intelligence briefings, despite his lack of prior military or political experience—“I’m, like, a smart person,” he recently said. Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, who will be Trump’s chief counsel on national security, has shown a willingness to believe and push conspiracy theories.

These actions portray an incoming administration with a casual disregard for evidence, an unwillingness to tap into the expertise around them, and a reckless self-confidence. They suggest that, in an outbreak, Trump is more likely to heed his own counsel than that of the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and other relevant experts. And he is likely to project that counsel to over 17 million followers.

Read the entire piece here.

*Boston Globe*: “The president has blood on his hands”

Trump corona speech

Here is a taste of the editorial:

The outbreak that began in China demanded a White House that could act swiftly and competently to protect public health, informed by science and guided by compassion and public service. It required an administration that could quickly deploy reliable tests around the nation to isolate cases and trace and contain the virus’s spread, as South Korea effectively did, as well as to manufacture and distribute scarce medical supplies around the country. It begged for a president of the United States to deliver clear, consistent, scientifically sound messages on the state of the epidemic and its solutions, to reassure the public amid their fear, and to provide steady guidance to cities and states. And it demanded a leader who would put the country’s well-being first, above near-term stock market returns and his own reelection prospects, and who would work with other nations to stem the tide of COVID-19 cases around the world.

What we have instead is a president epically outmatched by a global pandemic. A president who in late January, when the first confirmed coronavirus case was announced in the United States, downplayed the risk and insisted all was under control. A president who, rather than aggressively test all those exposed to the virus, said he’d prefer not to bring ashore passengers on a contaminated cruise ship so as to keep national case numbers (artificially) low. A president who, consistent with his mistrust and undermining of scientific fact, has misled the public about unproven cures for COVID-19, and who baited-and-switched last week about whether the country ought to end social distancing to open up by Easter, and then, on Saturday, about whether he’d impose a quarantine on New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. A president who has pledged to oversee the doling out of the $500 billion in corporate bailout money in the latest stimulus package, some of which will go to the travel industry in which his family is invested. A president who spent a good chunk of a recent press conference complaining about how hard it is for a rich man to serve in the White House even as Americans had already begun to lose their jobs, their health care, and their lives. A president who has reinforced racial stigma by calling the contagion a “Chinese virus” and failed to collaborate adequately with other countries to contain their outbreaks and study the disease. A president who evades responsibility and refuses to acknowledge, let alone own, the bitter truth of National Institutes of Health scientist Dr. Anthony Fauci’s testimony: that the country’s testing rollout was “a failing.”

Timing is everything in pandemic response: It can make the difference between a contained local outbreak that endures a few weeks and an uncontrollable contagion that afflicts millions. The Trump administration has made critical errors over the past two months, choosing early on to develop its own diagnostic test, which failed, instead of adopting the World Health Organization’s test — a move that kneecapped the US coronavirus response and, by most public health experts’ estimation, will cost thousands if not hundreds of thousands of American lives. Rather than making the expected federal effort to mobilize rapidly to distribute needed gowns, masks, and ventilators to ill-equipped hospitals and to the doctors and nurses around the country who are left unprotected treating a burgeoning number of patients, the administration has instead been caught outbidding individual states (including Massachusetts) trying to purchase medical supplies. It has dragged its heels on invoking the Defense Production Act to get scarce, sorely needed ventilators and masks into production so that they can be distributed to hospitals nationwide as they hit their peaks in the cycle of the epidemic. It has left governors and mayors in the lurch, begging for help. The months the administration wasted with prevarication about the threat and its subsequent missteps will amount to exponentially more COVID-19 cases than were necessary. In other words, the president has blood on his hands.

Read the entire piece here.

Rodney Howard-Browne’s Liberty Counsel Attorney: “The sheriff and Hillsborough County will get a lesson on the Constitution and discriminatory application of the law…” 

Pastor-Rodney-Howard-Browne-arrest

More craziness on the church front. As I wrote about on Tuesday, a Pentecostal preacher named Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested for holding services on Sunday.  Now it appears that the former dean of Liberty University Law School is going to defend him.  Here is a taste of a recent piece at Fox News:

Megachurch pastor Howard-Browne, 58, was arrested Monday, accused of violating quarantine orders during a public health emergency and holding service at the River at Tampa Bay Church on Sunday. The gathering created a “dangerous environment” for the church members and the larger community, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.

Howard-Browne reportedly held the gatherings despite warnings by police.

“His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk and thousands of residents who may interact with them this week in danger,” Chronister said during a news conference Monday.

The church livestreamed its morning “Main Event” service on its Facebook page, which showed congregants shoulder-to-shoulder, while the band was playing, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Shuttlesworth said Howard-Browne’s arrest came from simply “having church” when in reality he was arrested on second-degree misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and violating quarantine orders during a public health emergency, the paper said. Howard-Browne posted $500 bail about 40 minutes after being booked at a local jail.

Howard-Browne’s legal team, Liberty Counsel, argued there’s more to the story.

“The sheriff and Hillsborough County will get a lesson on the Constitution and discriminatory application of the law,” Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel founder and chairman, told Fox News.

Read the entire piece here.

The Attacks on Samaritan’s Purse Reveal a Fundamental Misunderstanding of Evangelical Relief Work

Samaritan Purse

As I wrote about yesterday, Franklin Graham’s organization Samaritan’s Purse has built a field hospital in Central Park to service coronavirus patients. Not everyone is happy about it.

For example, Brad Hoylman, a New York state senator representing Manhattan, wants to make sure that Graham’s views on traditional marriage do not get in the way of helping all New Yorkers.  In this NBC News piece, Hoylman says that it “is a shame that the federal government has left us in the position of having to accept charity from such bigots.” He added, “this health crisis is too delicate to leave it to televangelists, purveyors of the faith, to handle our medical needs.” New York Council Speaker Corey Johnson issued a statement describing Graham’s efforts in New York City as “extremely disturbing.”

The Gothamist is also up-in-arms about Samaritan Purse’s presence in Central Park.

As anyone who reads my work knows, I am no fan of Franklin Graham’s culture-war language and diehard support of Donald Trump. I do not support his Christian nationalism. He should not be surprised when some New Yorkers don’t want him there. Sadly, his support of Trump and his caustic attacks on the LGBTQ and Muslim communities have damaged his Christian witness. I wrote about him and other court evangelicals in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

But I defend Graham’s right to practice his faith and preside over a relief mission that reflects the beliefs of that faith. Samaritan’s Purse is an evangelical Christian organization. Millions of American evangelicals believe that sex is something reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. This is a deeply-held religious conviction. Samaritan’s Purse, in order to uphold the integrity of its ministry, should have the freedom to employ volunteers willing to embrace this belief.

The attacks on Samaritan’s Purse’s presence in New York City reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of evangelical relief work. I know of no evangelical relief organization that discriminates in the area of care. To suggest that the doctors, nurses, and volunteers working in the Central Park field hospital would refuse to treat LGBTQ coronavirus patients says more about Graham’s critics than it does about the mission of Samaritan’s Purse and the work of evangelical social concern generally.  Watch Franklin Graham here.

Two final thoughts:

  1. We live in a pluralistic society. I have argued that those on the Christian Right, Franklin Graham included, need to understand this. Today it is time for those on the Left to come to grips with this reality.
  2. The preservation of life is paramount right now. It is more important than church attendance. It is more important than the culture wars. The extreme ends of both the Left and the Right need to learn this lesson.

Who is Tending to Trump’s Soul?

Trump rain

When Bill Clinton was going through his impeachment ordeal in the late 1990s, he turned to several spiritual advisers to help him get through it. In September 2019, I wrote a piece at The Washington Post on how Tony Campolo, Gordon McDonald, and Philip Wogaman tended to the president’s soul during his time of crisis.

I thought about Clinton, his ministers, and my Post piece when I heard Donald Trump answer a question during yesterday’s coronavirus press conference.

The reporter asked:

I’ve got a follow up on the mask, sir. But first you mentioned Franklin Graham, talking to him. As you know, his father, Billy Graham, was a trusted spiritual advisor and friend of many presidents, a lot of your predecessors in times of national emergency reached out to pastors and other spiritual counselors. Have you done that during this national [crisis].

This reporter wanted to know if Trump was drawing upon his religious faith in these troubling times.

Here was Trump’s response:

I never say that, but Franklin Graham is somebody that’s very special. I have many very special people and a very many special in the evangelical, evangelical Christian community. You could talk rabbis, you can talk a lot of … I have tremendous support from religious leaders and Franklin Graham, I just spoke to him today for an extended period of time. I told him what a fantastic job you’re doing, and he does this. He loves doing it. He loves helping people, and he loves Jesus. Then I can tell you. He loves Jesus. He’s a great gentleman. Go ahead.

Trump obviously did not understand the question. Frankly, I am not sure how capable he is of understanding it. His response was the same kind of response he would give at a rally when he talks about his evangelical supporters and how much they support him.

I hope I am reading this wrong. I hope that Trump is getting serious and regular soul care during these troubling days.

“Fox, the whole Fox, and nothing but the Fox”

Hannity

I think a lot of folks can relate to this piece.  Here is Kara Swisher at The New York Times:

I’m a huge pest, in fact. “I’m going to block your number, if you don’t stop,” my mother said to me over the phone several weeks ago from Florida, after I had texted her the umpteenth chart about the spread of coronavirus across the country. All of these graphs had scary lines that went up and to the right. And all of them flashed big honking red lights: Go home and stay there until all clear.

She ignored my texts, so I had switched to calling her to make sure she had accurate information in those critical weeks at the end of February and the beginning of March. She is in the over-80 group that is most at risk of dying from infection. I worry a lot.

But she was not concerned — and it was clear why. Her primary source of news is Fox. In those days she was telling me that the Covid-19 threat was overblown by the mainstream news media (note, her daughter is in the media). She told me that it wasn’t going to be that big a deal. She told me that it was just like the flu.

And, she added, it was more likely that the Democrats were using the virus to score political points. And, did I know, by the way, that Joe Biden was addled?

Thankfully, Mom had not gone as far as claiming the coronavirus is a plot to hurt President Trump — a theory pushed by some at Fox News heavily at first. While she has been alternately appalled and amused by the president, and often takes his side, she is not enough of a superfan to think that he is any kind of victim here.

So, she kept going out with friends to restaurants and shopping and generally living her life as it always had been. “What’s the big deal, Kara? Stop bothering me,” she said over the phone. “You’re the one who is going to get sick, if you don’t stop working so much.”

And with that she was off to another social event, with me unable to stop her since I was hundreds of miles away. That spring break kid was bad, but this was also not good.

I could not lay the blame at the feet of social media this time. No, Facebook was not my mother’s source of misinformation (in fact, the company has been trying to improve in this area). It was not the fault of Dr. Google, which has at least pushed out more good information than bad. And my mom doesn’t use Twitter.

Instead, it was Fox, the whole Fox and nothing but the Fox.

Read the entire piece here.

When the Churches Can’t Provide the Social Safety Net That We Need

a3062-nodepressioninheavenIn the midst of our current pandemic, several historian friends have been referencing Alison Collis Greene‘s book No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta. Greene’s book shows, among other things, that sometimes the good work of local churches in times of economic and social crises is just not enough.  Sometimes we need the government.

Over at The Baffler, Rachel Bryan, a doctoral student in literature at the University of Tennessee, reflects on Greene’s book in the context of her own experience growing-up in the South.  Here is a taste:

IN 2005, MY FAMILY HOME BURNED DOWN. It was an old Sears Roebuck Victorian that my parents spent over twenty years remodeling a bit at a time. The fire happened in June in Alabama; I was asleep in my older sister’s bedroom while she was at the beach because she had an air conditioner in her room, and I didn’t in mine. I slept in her bed whenever I could, which saved my life when the fire started in an outlet in my room. Later that year, Hurricane Katrina came through and flooded what was left of the house’s ground level. We had insurance and were able to eventually rebuild, after a stint in a house with possums in the attic, but I remember the stifling silence of our small town’s churches during those years. Our own church was microscopic, with a few families and older people who could only offer the shirts off their backs—and many did. But I knew then, without question, that churches weren’t a social safety net. If we needed help, the church wouldn’t be the provider.

Those memories came back to me recently when, for a Southern history seminar, I read Alison Collis Greene’s 2015 study No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta. Greene tells the story behind what she calls “the myth of the redemptive depression.” There is some truth to the myth, she notes in her opening. “Members of families and communities indeed turned to one another in their hardship, and many also turned to their churches for solace, for support, for meaning.” Yet in the Mississippi Delta, people quickly saw “the inadequacy of families, communities, and churches full of poor people to aid one another in their time of mutual distress. The Great Depression gave lie to the toxic notion that responsibility for poverty lies with the poor rather than with systems of oppression that make a mockery of the American dream.” With a global pandemic and economic recession—if not full-scale depression—looming, Greene’s study of religious charity and political power speaks to life and death concerns in the nation’s most vulnerable regions—and sheds light on what we’re all about to face.

And this:

Later, Greene’s book turns to the reshaping of American national memory—specifically, how the New Right emerged after World War II to rewrite the narrative of the church’s failures during the Depression, and how the church further aligned with the nation’s commitment to capitalist industry in the late twentieth century. The new story encouraged resistance to socialized poverty initiatives, and it framed the state as having gotten in the way of effective church charity

In these rosy new narratives, the Great Depression brought suffering and sorrow, but also thrift and humility. It did precisely what religious authorities had hoped it would: it stripped away life’s superfluities and brought people together, and to God. The Great Depression brought redemption—or it would have, if only Franklin Roosevelt had not interfered.

That’s the redemptive myth, and it fortified the falsehood that governmental assistance was unnecessary, and even harmful to individual initiative and religious charity. This history is important for Southern communities today, especially in places where churches are taking tithes online but will go on to offer no direct relief aid to their congregations. And communities will continue to send their prayers, find social solace in their church communities, and listen to sermons about their communities coming together, all while these churches have no loaves and fishes to spare.

Read the entire piece here.

The “My Pillow” Guy’s Comments at Yesterday’s Press Conference Represent Everything Wrong With the Public Witness of the Christian Right

Watch Mike Lindell, CEO of My Pillow:

Lindell turns a coronavirus press conference into a Christian Right campaign ad for Donald Trump.

Outside of the United States, political leaders don’t like Christians because they proclaim a Gospel that speaks truth to power. Many are persecuted and even killed for their convictions. When this happens, unbelievers see the authenticity of Christ-followers and consider Christianity’s claims.

Inside the United States, people don’t like evangelicals because they act like complete idiots. They hijack press conferences with words that link the will of God to a corrupt president. They suggest that God “has been taken out of our schools and lives” and extol Donald Trump as some kind of divine agent who will bring God back.

How did Mike Lindell advance the Gospel yesterday?