Commonplace Book #181

³Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
⁴Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
⁵Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the Earth.
⁶Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
⁷Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
⁸Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
⁹Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
¹⁰Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
¹¹Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
¹²Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

–Jesus, Matthew 5:3-12.

Randall Balmer: Evangelicals “have been outsourcing their judicial appointments to conservative Catholics”

Back in July 2018, National Public Radio reporter Sarah McCammon asked me why there are no evangelical Christians on the Supreme Court. Here is the part of my answer that made it into her story:

MCCAMMON: A major goal for many conservatives, and one supported by Catholic theology. Trump’s shortlist for the next justice was overwhelmingly Catholic. One major religious group known for its social conservatism that’s notably absent from the court is evangelicals. That’s despite white evangelicals’ influence in the Trump administration and critical role in helping him win the presidency. John Fea is a historian at Messiah College, an evangelical institution in Pennsylvania.

JOHN FEA: A lot of that has to do with the direction that the evangelical movement has taken in America.

MCCAMMON: Fea says unlike Catholicism and Judaism, which both have a long intellectual tradition, American evangelicalism has been more practical in focus.

FEA: Evangelicals are primarily concerned with preaching the gospel, with service. So as a result, you have a lot of evangelicals doing great things, but they’re not necessarily pursuing this kind of intellectual vocation because they’re out trying to win people to Christ.

Most of the evangelical lawyers with a public profile are people like Trump’s impeachment lawyer Jay Sekulow, men and women who specialize in church-state law and believe that the primary way of being a Christian lawyer to help the Right win the culture wars.

In a recent piece at CNN, Ron Brownstein explores the place of conservative Catholics on the Supreme Court. If Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, she will join John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh as Catholic justices with a conservative judicial philosophy. (Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal justice, is also Catholic).

Brownstein’s piece draws heavily from the work of Dartmouth American religious historian Randall Balmer. Here is a taste:

“You have a situation where the evangelicals have been outsourcing their judicial appointments to conservative Catholics,” says Randall Balmer, a professor of religion at Dartmouth University, who has written extensively on the history of evangelical political activism.

The Catholic dominance in these selections, many observers say, simultaneously reflects an ideological convergence and an institutional divergence. The ideological convergence is that conservative Catholics, including those in the legal field, have displayed as much commitment to conservative social causes, particularly banning abortion, as evangelical Christians. The institutional divergence is that there is a vastly stronger legal network — from well-respected law schools to judicial clerkships to lower court appointments — to provide conservative Catholics with the credentials required to obtain a Supreme Court nomination than exists for evangelical Protestants.

The Republican tilt toward Catholics over evangelicals “has to do, in really simple terms, with supply and demand,” says Joshua Wilson, a political scientist at the University of Denver and co-author with Amanda Hollis-Brusky of “Separate But Faithful,” an upcoming book on conservative Christians in the legal world. “You don’t have a robust pool of evangelical Protestant lawyers and judges, whereas you do have a robust pool of conservative Catholic judges and lawyers and academics.”

Read the entire piece here.

Is Amy Coney Barrett a new feminist icon?

This is a really interesting piece at Politico. Here is a taste of Erika Bachiochi‘s “Amy Coney Barrett: A New Feminist Icon”:

Barrett embodies a new kind of feminism, a feminism that builds upon the praiseworthy antidiscrimination work of Ginsburg but then goes further. It insists not just on the equal rights of men and women, but also on their common responsibilities, particularly in the realm of family life. In this new feminism, sexual equality is found not in imitating men’s capacity to walk away from an unexpected pregnancy through abortion, but rather in asking men to meet women at a high standard of mutual responsibility, reciprocity and care.

At Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearing in 2017, Sen. Dianne Feinstein tellingly remarked, “You are controversial because many of us that have lived lives as women really recognize the value of finally being able to control our reproductive systems, and Roe entered into that, obviously.”

Barrett’s life story puzzles older feminists like Feinstein because bearing and raising a bevy of children has long implied retaining a traditional life script — like staying home with the children — that Barrett has obviously not heeded.

To be sure, few mothers of seven could become federal judges, never mind Supreme Court justices. Barrett – “generationally brilliant,” according to her Notre Dame colleague, O. Carter Snead — is likely alone in this set. It all seems so unlikely: She has risen to the pinnacle of her profession while at once being “radically hospitable” to children, as Snead has described her. An enigma to many, she doesn’t easily fit into any ideological box.

If we’re really intent as a country on seeing women flourish in their professions and serve in greater numbers of leadership positions too, it would be worthwhile to interrupt the abortion rights sloganeering for a beat and ask just how this mother of many has achieved so much.

Read the entire piece here.

*The New York Times* gets access to Trump’s tax returns and it’s not pretty

Well, now we know why Trump does not want us to see his tax returns. The New York Times has uncovered them and this evening released the first of several reports about what they found.

Some highlights:

Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017. By the way, the average American pays between $6,837 a year (West Virginia) and $19,977 a year (New Jersey).

Trump paid “no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years–largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.” Everything about this report reveals what we already knew:

The tax returns reveal a failed businessman “who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes.” In 2018, he lost $47 million.

Trump now relies “more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.”

Trump “has been more successful playing a business mogul than being one in real life.” In this context, Trump’s run for president in 2015 may have been an attempt to “reanimate the marketability of his name.”

In the next four years Trump will need to pay back $300 million in loans.

Trump properties “have become bazaars for collecting money directly from lobbyists, foreign officials and others seeking face time, access or favor….”

He made $5 million a year from new memberships at Mar-a-Lago following the announcement of his candidacy in 2015. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which is run by court evangelical Franklin Graham, paid $397,602 dollars to Trump’s Washington D.C. hotel for a 2017 conference on persecuted Christians.

In his four years in office Trump has made licensing deals with the Philippines ($3 million), India ($2.3 million), and Turkey ($1 million).

Trump’s golf courses have lost $315.6 million since 2000. His Washington D.C. hotel lost $55.5 million between 2016 and 2018. His real estate company, “Trump Corporation,” has lost $134 million since 2000.

Trump Tower in New York is Trump’s only major success as a businessman. It has brought in $336.3 million since 2000.

Trump has failed to pay back $287 million in loans since 2010.

Trump paid 70,000 in haircuts during his years as the star of the NBC reality show “The Apprentice.” (I could have set him up with Vladimir at the Camp Hill Barber Shop for a lot less! :-))

You can read the entire piece here.

In an appearance on CNN, Trump biographer Tim O’Brien said, “you have in these numbers a portrait of a president as a con man and a long-term grifter. Donald Trump is probably the most successful con-man in modern history and he’s wound-up in the White House.”

Here are some of my favorite tweets so far:

Sunday night odds and ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Are pious Catholics a problem for liberalism?

Marilynne Robinson’s latest Gilead novel

Editing RBG

Unschooling

Cheap stuff in America

1820 and 1920

Women’s domesticity and 1950s ads

Is Uncle Tom’s Cabin guilt lit?”

Do the framers of the Constitution still own it?

Amy Coney Barrett and the conservative legal movement

Blatant lying…characterizes much of the Christian propaganda for Donald Trump

Defending white freedom

A monument to a Jewish Confederate

Gene Seymour reviews Rick Perlstein, Reaganland: America’s Right Turn, 1976-1980

Rewatching Ken Burns’s The Civil War after a summer of racial unrest

What should we make of Trump’s appointment of Amy Coney Barrett?

In the last 24 hours several of you have asked me what I think about Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.

First, I think there is nothing unconstitutional about Trump choosing a nominee in an election year.

Second, I think there are times when a president should think about the greater good of the country. (I can’t believe I actually have to point this out, but we are living in the age of Trump). This might mean holding a Supreme Court nomination until after a presidential election. At the very least, it might also mean waiting until Ruth Bader Ginsburg is buried before choosing her successor. Joe Biden is right about Trump’s lack of basic human decency.

Third, GOP Senators are hypocrites. In 2016, Merrick Garland should have received a hearing and a vote. I am not convinced by any of the GOP attempts to reconcile their 2016 views with their willingness to give Trump’s nominee (Barrett) a hearing and a vote in 2020.

This Jake Tapper interview with Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas is a perfect example of what I am talking about:

Cotton is just making stuff up here. He loves the founding fathers, but he seems to have no interest in their fears about political partisanship undermining the republic.

Fourth, no matter what we think about all of this, Barrett will be appointed to Ginsburg’s seat and it will probably happen before the election. If it wasn’t Barrett, it would have been another justice approved by the court evangelicals.

Fifth, Barrett is a competent interpreter of the law and a fair choice in light of what I wrote about in the previous paragraph.

Sixth, I direct you to my previous posts on Barrett’s religion. I have tried to put her beliefs in some kind of larger context.

Seventh, I take a “wait and see” approach on Roe v. Wade. Barrett has said it is unlikely that it would be overturned, but that was back in 2013. (It is unclear whether her comment represented her own personal beliefs or was simply a statement made by an outside commentator).

Moreover, as someone who does not believe overturning Roe is the best way to reduce abortions in America, I don’t have a strong opinion either way on Barrett’s anti-abortion record. I know I will be criticized by the Right and the Left for this position. The Right will criticize me for not embracing the conservative evangelical playbook on abortion. I have argued many times before why the Christian Right playbook is bad for the nation and the church. The Left will say that as a white male I don’t care about women’s health. This is a false binary. One can care about women’s health and still think abortion is morally wrong. I stand with the millions of American women who also believe this.

Eighth, I am worried more about what a Barrett appointment might mean for health care and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) than I am about what it might mean for abortion.

Ninth, I am not worried about Trump using a conservative majority on the court to steal the 2020 presidential election. I have no doubt that Trump will try to claim election fraud if he loses on November 3, but I can’t imagine the Supreme Court would allow him to get away with this.

Politically, Trump’s ongoing claims that mail-in-ballots will lead to an unfair election will ultimately work against him because it gives the Court and other officials time to anticipate his arguments and gather evidence to prove he is wrong.

Commonplace Book #180

Douglass played the prophetic role of the “suffering servant” with zeal. His famous statement about agitation, delivered in a speech in 1857, has stood the test of time and numerous protest ideologies: “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground , they want rain without thunder and lightning. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will.”

David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, 285-286.

Trump lies every time he opens his mouth

The president is coming to my neck of the woods tonight–Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. As he boarded the helicopter he had a few words with reporters. I counted at least four lies or misleading statements in less than ten minutes.

First, he said “we are leading in Pennsylvania.” Actually, Biden is leading every major poll.

Second, Trump said he was leading in Florida. Of seven major polls, Trump is leading in one of them (ABC News/Washington Post), he is tied in two of them (Reuters/Ipsos and Florida Atlantic), and trailing Biden in four polls.

Third, Trump criticized the Iowa Democratic “primary” for not knowing who won on election night (Feb. 3, 2020). “Many ballots were missing,” he said. This is impossible because Iowa has a “caucus,” not a “primary.” Ballots are not used.

Fourth, when asked about this Tuesday’s debate with Joe Biden, Trump said that Biden’s public appearances are “different each time” depending on if he is taking a “different medication.”

And evangelical theologian Wayne Gruden believes that Trump does not lie.

Local coverage of the South Bend People of Praise community, 1977

Sun, Aug 7, 1977 – 30 · The South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana) · Newspapers.com

Later today Trump is expected to announce his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. There has been a lot of discussion about Barrett’s religious community, the People of Praise in South Bend, Indiana. I wrote about it earlier today.

If you want to dig a little deeper into the history of the South Bend People of Praise group, the August 7, 1977 issue of The South Bend Tribune devoted several articles to it. I have copied two of them below:

Here is Whitney Smith’s piece: “Charismatics: United or hell-bent for schism?”:

To some, the Charismatic Renewal has “the best potential for uniting Christians in and out of the major denominations. To others, certain practices destine the movement hell-bent for schism.

Such is the conflict facing many Christians who are concerned for the future of their faith.

Critics have raised some of the most ardent questions about a religious movement since Rev. Sun Myung Moons Unification Church. They are concerned not only because the renewal has revitalized religion for millions of Christians, but because serious conflicts have arisen out of the Charismatic communities.

“There is definitely the potential for a very serious factionalism within the movement, said Rev. Dan Danielson, C.S.C., vicar for Catholic Charismatics for the Diocese of Oakland, Calif. This is even more legitimate a concern than it was a few years ago when criticisms were first made.

At first, hard-line Catholics balked at accepting the movement

Traditionalists said the swaying bodies, waving hands and verbal outbursts of praise from worshippers seem more of an emotional response to Cod than an internal one, and therefore seem more Charismatic than Catholic.

But as Catholics are becoming more familiar with the movement, gradually they are accepting it. Pope Raul VI himself and many bishops have adopted an attitude of what Rev. Danielson called cautious optimism.

Indeed, the focus of criticism has changed.

Most criticism today is aimed at residential Charismatic communities, rather than the worldwide movement from which the communities have emerged.

Former community members claim “authoritarianism in communities such as South Bend’s 800-member People of Praise is in some ways unhealthy for its members.

Catholics attack community prayer practices as unacceptable replacements for time-honored traditions such as the private confessional.

Still others attack as unsound a fundamentalist attitude toward women, which they said results from a “too-literal interpretation” of male and female roles defined in Scripture.

Community members claim much criticism of the Charismatics stems from unfamiliarity with what the community is and what their lives are like. South Bends People of Praise community, for example, has been a puzzle to many local residents.

That’s unusual, considering People of Praise has been used as a model for other communities like it across the country, and that South Bend is communications headquarters for the worldwide Charismatic movement.

Few know about the community because the members are content to “live and let live.” When they do talk about the community to outsiders, its like listening to attorneys plead a case before a judge. They weigh every word.

They’re careful to the point of being defensive and tight-lipped to the point of convincing you they have something to hide. Even if they don’t.

Charismatics have been lambasted for everything from getting excited about God to exorcising evil spirits–a practice they call “deliverance.” So strong has been the onslaught of criticism that the Charismatics have become calloused, almost unresponsive to it.

Asked why they have remained so aloof, Tom Noe. community member, responded they are only interested in fulfilling their commitment as a community: to put the Christian tenets a lot of persons talk about into -practice in their daily lives.

According to Charismatic Conference Coordinator Tony Rowland, critics take potshots at the People of Praise out of ignorance of what it is really like. Still, some of the most ardent critics were once Charismatics themselves.

An example is Brad (not his real name), who left a People of Praise household after living there for nearly a year. 

Brad, 20, quit the community because, among other reasons, “it restricted my lifestyle.”

When Brad wasn’t working, community prayer sessions, recruitment meetings and other activities crowded his free time. Brad and the rest of the Charismastic family pooled their paychecks in the household fund for food and lodging expenses, but received only $8 each week for outside expenses.

The evil spirit of pride” was exorcised from Brad, he said, in a required “deliverance” session before a room full of others at the LaSalle Hotel.

For a year, he was not permitted to date anyone outside the community, he said. If he chose to date inside the community, it had to be “with the intention of looking for a wife,” and he had to receive permission from his “head” (spiritual advisor.)

“They wanted me to quit my job, which I really enjoy, to come to work for them in the LaSalle building. I think I should decide things about my career and marriage. In a sense, they tried to control my life.”

Such practices have been called “authoritarian” by Dr. William G. Storey, a Notre Dame theology professor who left the movement in 1970.

Another Notre Dame faculty member, Dr. Josephine M. Ford, has written more than 30 articles and books explaining and criticizing the Charismatics. Her most outspoken objections concern the treatment of women in the communities.

Dr. Ford, an associate professor of theology who is now on sabbatical in California, was expelled from the movement six years ago for being disruptive. There is an incredible subordination of women in the communities,” said Dr. Ford.

“There are male and female roles which community members interpret too literally from New Testament scripture, particularly Paul.

“You would think that Adam and Eve are more fundamental to their faith than Jesus Christ Himself.”

Rowland admitted that “a lot of our beliefs go contrary to what is going on (with women’s liberation) today. Scripture says the man is the head of the household, and that women are to support their husbands. A lot of people are apt to take this loosely.

Besides, Rowland added, a relationship in which the wife supports the husband in work does not mean she is inferior. But Dr. Ford insists that the People of Praise and Word of God (Ann Arbor) communities do treat women as inferiors.

She cited as an example a community practice that women may not step outside the traditional female roles when seeking jobs. A South Bend woman I know of wanted to become a doctor, but it was recommended instead that she become a nurse,” she added. 

Rev. Danielson and other critics of the Charismatics stress they have “a very positive attitude about the potential of the movement,” but “maintain significant differences with current leadership.” 

Communities in South Bend, Ann Arbor and elsewhere often leave discordant voices no choice but leaving the movement.

Considering that the current leadership an eight-member National Service Committee fills its own vacancies, there seems little chance for a change in philosophy that would overcome current conflicts.

Rev. Danielson and others say the only hope is for the Charismatics to work more closely within the church structure, and for the (ad hoc) committee of bishops and local diocesan bishops to become familiar enough with the communities to help overcome conflicts.

“Otherwise, the potential for a very serious factionalism is very great,” he said. I, for one, and many of the Charismatics are dissatisfied with many of the decisions that have been made, and feel it is time for a new voice to bo heard.”

Here is Kathleen Harsh’s piece, “Charismatics live together, sharing faith, good times”:

Dinners over. While that’s the time most American families clear away the dishes and tune in Walter Cronkite, the family at 1304 Hillcrest moves to the living room and tunes in the Lord.

This is not your ordinary American household.

The home on Hillcrest is one of more than 30 households in the 800-member People of Praise Community, an extension of the Charismatic Renewal.

Outside’ the spacious brick house are clusters of shade trees. Inside, 18 persons put to practice the Christian principles a lot of other people just talk about.

“You came at a very bad time,” said Mrs. Colette Rowland, the wife of the head of the household, as she bustled through the dining room in a bright yellow caftan.

Everyone in the household and that includes her family of eight, four Notre Dame students and a second grade teacher rushed about as they prepared to leave for the Charismatic Renewal Conference in Kansas City. Mrs. Rowland’s husband and a few other residents were on their way to the conference.

As if that wasn’t enough to disrupt the unusually routine household, the Rowland family is preparing to move to Belgium, where they will help organize international Charismatic prayer groups.

Despite empty chairs and the sense of change that pervaded the atmosphere of the household, life continued as if everything were normal.

Most days, the family follows a rigid schedule: prayer at 6 a m. and breakfast at 7. During the day, they separate for work or household chores. Residents are “encouraged” to spend their free time together.  They are given only one free night each week, according to household head Tony Rowland. They meet every night for the evening meal.

In the minutes before dinner started, Chris Meehan, a senior at Notre Dame, explained why he moved into the household over a year ago.

“I like the environment a lot better here than at Notre Dame,” he said, .leaning comfortably on a piece of furniture in the dining room. “Drinking is a big thing at Notre Dame, and you’re nowhere if you don’t have a girlfriend. Here, there’s  more of a family-type atmosphere.”

Chris handles all finances in the household. Although members are not all related, they pool their pay-checks each week and are given personal allotments based on need. Chris then pays the rent, utility, and food bills for the family.

Finances in households in the People of Praise Community vary, depending on the consensus reached by the members. But, usually finances are handled in a manner similar to the Rowland household. When the paychecks are pooled, a certain percentage is set aside in a fund to be used if the individual decides to leave.

The family type atmosphere Chris finds so appealing was apparent as the unusual assortment of people gathered round the dining room table. Before the household sat down to dinner, the air was filled with the whispering of 13 simultaneous conversations with the Lord. Then together they broke into a prayer, spoken almost routinely.

At dinner, Mrs. Rowland apologized because it was not served punctually at 5:30, as is household custom. Chicken, rice, green beans and peaches were served on unmatching plates and saucers–the everyday set was on its way to Belgium.

After dinner the household moved from the dining room to the air-conditioned living room to pray. The living room was even more sparsely furnished than the dining room. All that remaimed was a piano and one red sofa, on which Mrs. Rowland seated herself. The rest of the members formed a circle on the floor.

Chris, the 18-year-old son of the Rowlands, took his guitar out of the case and began tuning it. They sang from worn prayer books strewn on the floor. Some members lifted their hands up and swayed back and forth, as if in a trance, while others just closed their eyes and praised the Lord.

Alleluia, Lord Jesus,” and “we give you praise and glory,” and “I love you Lord” hummed through the air on that hot summer night as the members chanted their individual prayers.

Next they selected passages from scripture, relating what they read to problems and experiences in their everyday lives. The prayer session ended with a spirited singing of “Alleluia” complete with maracas.

One by one, they left the room.

Seated alone on the carpet was Mrs. Rowland, who with her soft French accent, told of how she came to be a Charismatic. She said the first time she attended a prayer meeting, five years ago, she felt a “very genuine authenticity of the presence of God.

“I’ve heard scripture all my life, but before it was just words. Now it has come alive.”

Mrs. Rowland said it was not a hard decision choosing to live a life in common with other people. “Once you give your life and your heart to the Lord, you naturally live according to the scripture.”

Although the role of women in the Charismatics life is something most members are reluctant to talk about, Mrs. Rowland discussed It, but not without carefully choosing each word. She added that it was a very touchy subject.

The women in the Charismatic household are given charge of cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children. Tony Rowland said they follow literally the roles for men and women set forth in the scripture.

“What my husband and I do is talk things over and make a decision together. Nevertheless, the father has the responsibility of raising the family,” Mrs. Rowland said.

Although critics have attacked Charismatics for requiring women to submit to their husbands and heads of household, Mrs. Rowland said there is a lot of misunderstanding about the word “submission.”

“The key to it is unity,” she said slowly. “My husband and I are of the same mind and heart to serve the Lord. I know his mind so well that I can make a decision without his presence.” Mrs. Rowland explained that this is submission.

Betty Raven, another household member, also discussed her views concerning the roles of men and women. Betty, a Notre Dame graduate student who has an electrical engineering job at Bendix Corp., said she thinks a lot of the women’s liberation movement–specifically their stance on abortion–is “crazy. She added she did not think a person should pursue a career just for the sake of pursuing a career, saying she would quit work if she got married.

After prayers at the Charismatic household, all was quiet. The dishes were done and some members were outside in the backyard trying to make the heat bearable by talking, laughing and enjoying each others company.

Glancing over her shoulder at the joyful household, Mrs. Rowland said, They really do have a good time.” 

Should liberals fear Amy Coney Barrett?

They won’t like the way she interprets the law, but she is certainly qualified to serve as a Supreme Court justice.

Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School says Barrett “deserves to be on the Supreme Court” despite the fact that he disagrees with her on “almost everything.” Here is a taste of Feldman’s recent column at Bloomsberg:

I disagree with much of her judicial philosophy and expect to disagree with many, maybe even most of her future votes and opinions. Yet despite this disagreement, I know her to be a brilliant and conscientious lawyer who will analyze and decide cases in good faith, applying the jurisprudential principles to which she is committed. Those are the basic criteria for being a good justice. Barrett meets and exceeds them.

I got to know Barrett more than 20 years ago when we clerked at the Supreme Court during the 1998-99 term. Of the thirty-some clerks that year, all of whom had graduated at the top of their law school classes and done prestigious appellate clerkships before coming to work at the court, Barrett stood out. Measured subjectively and unscientifically by pure legal acumen, she was one of the two strongest lawyers. The other was Jenny Martinez, now dean of the Stanford Law School.

Here is O. Carter Snead, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, in a piece at The Washington Post:

Even more reassuring to Barrett skeptics should be her remarkable humility. There are plenty of smart people in elite academia and on the federal bench, but few with Barrett’s generosity of spirit. She genuinely seeks to understand others’ arguments and does not regard them as mere obstacles to be overcome on the way to reaching a preferred conclusion. Time and again, I have seen her gently reframe a colleague’s arguments to make them stronger, even when she disagreed with them. And she is not afraid to change her own mind in the search for the truth, as I have seen in several of our faculty seminars. Such open-mindedness is exactly what we want of our judges — and what we can expect Barrett to bring to the Supreme Court, because that is who she has always been.

There is no need to fear Barrett’s faith. To the contrary, her commitment to treating others with respect grows directly out of her religious convictions. But Barrett’s love of neighbor goes beyond merely treating others with dignity. In all the time I have known her, I have never once seen Barrett place her needs above those of others.

A few years ago, a blind student matriculated as a first-year law student at Notre Dame. Upon arrival, she encountered delays in getting the technological support she needed to carry out her studies. After only a few days in Barrett’s class, the student asked her for advice. Barrett’s response was “This is no longer your problem. It is my problem.” Barrett followed up with university administration herself, got the student what she needed, and then mentored her for three years. That student just completed her service as the first blind female Supreme Court clerk in U.S. history.

Read the entire piece here.

Franklin Graham will lead a prayer march through Washington D.C. today

Yonat Shimron has it covered at Religion News Service. Here is a taste:

Like his late father, Billy Graham, Franklin Graham is not a marcher.

The Graham family formula has always focused on stadium-sized evangelistic revivals.

But ahead of the presidential election, the evangelical preacher is borrowing a tactic used by civil rights leaders and Black Lives Matter protesters. He is organizing a mass prayer march Saturday (Sept. 26) from the Lincoln Memorial to the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

“It’s important that men and women of God come to Washington, and let’s call on his name and ask for his help,” Graham told RNS. “We are so divided, politically, morally, spiritually. We’re just divided. We pray that God can help unite this nation to be truly the United States of America.”

Graham insists the march is not an effort to encourage voting or to rally evangelicals to the polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election. His only agenda is to get people to repent and pray, he said.

But when he speaks about the protests against police brutality, the Democratic party or President Trump’s impending Supreme Court nomination, he echoes talking points and slogans advanced by the president and the GOP.

“The Democratic Party as a whole has moved into socialism,” Graham said.

Read the rest here.

I am all for prayer, but this event has pro-Trump politics written all over it. Here is what I told Shimron:

“It’s going to be hard to miss this as a kind of counter-march, an anti Black Lives Matter or anti-violence (march),” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah University and an expert on evangelicalism. “His march is clearly defining itself over and against the protests against George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.”

All of these speakers are either court evangelicals or popular Trump supporters. The event is “hosted” by Mike Huckabee and Graham’s daughter, Cissie Graham.

Liberty University, who recently dumped president and court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr., has not changed one bit in its Trumpism. Acting president Jerry Prevo is sending 2200 students to the event. Prevo says that this is “strictly a prayer march.” I wonder if Prevo would send Liberty University students to a prayer march sponsored by an anti-Trump evangelical?

Other speakers include court evangelicals Alveda King and Bishop Harry Jackson.

In another event this weekend, Jonathan Cahn, a Messianic Jewish pastor who writes apocalyptic novels comparing the attacks on September 11 to the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel, is holding an event in Washington D.C. called “The Return: National and Global Day of Prayer and Repentance.”

Speakers include court evangelical Tony Perkins, court evangelical Jim Garlow, former Rep. Michelle Bachman, Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert, “MyPillow guy” Mike Lindell, singer Pat Boone, actor Kevin Sorbo, former gang member of The Cross and the Switchblade fame Nicky Cruz, American Idol star Danny Gokey, and Billy Graham’s daughter Anne Graham Lotz.

Amy Coney Barrett and the People of Praise

It looks like Trump will nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court later today. Over the next several weeks, Senators and pundits will want to know more about People of Praise, a Catholic charismatic group in which the Barrett family are members.

So far the best short introduction to the People of Praise is Michael O’Loughlin’s piece at the Jesuit magazine America. Here is a taste:

People of Praise is a South Bend, Ind.–based charismatic community that attracts members from a number of Christian churches, though the vast majority of its members are Catholic. The group was founded in 1971, part of a Catholic charismatic renewal that emerged from the Second Vatican Council. Charismatic communities emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit in the daily lives of believers. Some of their practices appear to have more in common with Pentecostal communities than with traditional Catholicism, such as speaking in tongues, healing services and prophecy.

Charismatic communities became increasingly popular through the 1970s and ’80s. The University of Notre Dame once hosted an annual conference devoted to these groups, which attracted tens of thousands of participants. Many groups have been active near college campuses. In some charismatic communities, single members share homes with families who are also part of the group. Other communities purchase multiple homes in a single neighborhood, creating a feeling of a large extended family living on the same block. Members of People of Praise pledge to donate 5 percent of their income to the group, though some give more.

Craig Lent, the leader of People of Praise, told Slate in 2018 that the community pledges “to care for each other physically, financially, materially, and spiritually.” Today, about 350 people belong to the People of Praise in South Bend, with a few thousand more in branches spread throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. Their membership lists are not public.

Read the rest here.

People of Praise sounds like a movement of traditional Catholics influenced by evangelicalism, Pentecostalism (with its emphasis on the power of the Holy Spirit), and complementarianism. It doesn’t sound like it is outside the mainstream of American Christianity. Critics will not like People of Praise for the same reasons they will not like Pentecostals for their faith healing and tongues-speaking, Southern Baptists for their complementarianism, and Catholics for their sexual ethics.

The former members of the group who claim People of Praise is a cult sound a lot like ex-evangelicals and ex-Catholics who levy criticisms against religious communities that make claims on the lives of their members. People of Praise is not the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like and you are free to leave.

I think we can also expect Barrett’s use of the phrase “Kingdom of God” in a 2006 commencement address will come-up again. I addressed that here.

But the issue here is not Barrett’s faith, but how and if that faith will influence the way she interprets the law. Questions about her Catholicism and People of Praise are absolutely fair game. Barrett should answer them.

Peggy Noonan has a good column on Peoples of Praise at the right-leaning The Wall Street Journal and Stephanie Mencimer has an informative piece from the left-leaning Mother Jones.

Commonplace Book #179

1927: The union Thanksgiving service we attended this morning was full of the kind of self-righteous bunk which made it quite impossible for me to worship. There was indeed a faint odor of contrition in one of the prayers and in an aside of the sermon, but it did not spring from the heart. The Lord who was worshipped was not the Lord of Hosts, but the spirit of Uncle Sam, given a cosmic eminence for the moment which the dear old gentleman does not deserve.

It is a bad thing when religion is used as a vehicle of pride. It would be better to strut unashamedly down the boardwalk of nations than go through the business of bowing humbly before God while we say, “We thank thee Lord that we are not as other men.”

Reinhold Niebuhr, Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic, 119.

The American Historical Association responds to Trump’s White House American History event

Here it is:

On September 17, the White House announced, “In commemoration of Constitution Day, President Trump will travel to the National Archives to participate in a discussion on the liberal indoctrination of America’s youth through the 1619 Project, Critical Race Theory, and other misleading, radical ideologies with a diverse group of professors, historians, and scholars. The President will deliver remarks on his Administration’s efforts to promote a more balanced, accurate, and patriotic curricula in America’s schools.”

This hastily assembled “White House Conference on American History” took place in the Rotunda of the National Archives, although the National Archives and Records Administration had no role in organizing the program. The organizers of the event neither informed nor consulted associations of professional historians. 

The American Historical Association addresses this “conference” and the president’s ill-informed observations about American history and history education reluctantly and with dismay. The event was clearly a campaign stunt, deploying the legitimating backdrop of the Rotunda, home of the nation’s founding documents, to draw distinctions between the two political parties on education policy, tie one party to civil disorder, and enable the president to explicitly attack his opponent. Like the president’s claim at Mount Rushmore two months ago that “our children are taught in school to hate their own country,” this political theater stokes culture wars that are meant to distract Americans from other, more pressing current issues. The AHA only reluctantly gives air to such distraction; we are not interested in inflating a brouhaha that is a mere sideshow to the many perils facing our nation at this moment. 

Past generations of historians participated in promoting a mythical view of the United States. Missing from this conventional narrative were essential themes that we now recognize as central to a complete understanding of our nation’s past. As scholars, we locate and evaluate evidence, which we use to craft stories about the past that are inclusive and able to withstand critical scrutiny. In the process, we engage in lively and at times heated conversations with each other about the meaning of evidence and ways to interpret it. As teachers, we encourage our students to question conventional wisdom as well as their own assumptions, but always with an emphasis on evidence. It is not appropriate for us to censor ourselves or our students when it comes to discussing past events and developments. To purge history of its unsavory elements and full complexity would be a disservice to history as a discipline and the nation, and in the process would render a rich, fascinating story dull and uninspiring.

The AHA deplores the use of history and history education at all grade levels and other contexts to divide the American people, rather than use our discipline to heal the divisions that are central to our heritage. Healing those divisions requires an understanding of history and an appreciation for the persistent struggles of Americans to hold the nation accountable for falling short of its lofty ideals. To learn from our history we must confront it, understand it in all its messy complexity, and take responsibility as much for our failures as our accomplishments.

Read the cosigning organizations here.

Richard Bailey appointed Fitzpatrick Professor of History at Canisius College

Some of you may recall our July 2020 post on Canisius College’s decision to remove three history professors. Richard Bailey, an early American historian and author of a great book on race and religion in Puritan New England, was one of the professors cut. (He also happened to be the department chair).

I am happy to report that Bailey not only got his job back at Canisius, but he also landed an endowed chair! Congrats. Here is the press release:

BUFFALO, NY – Canisius College has named Richard A. Bailey, PhD, the Fitzpatrick Professor of History.  In this new role, Bailey will collaborate with faculty colleagues to bring a diverse and engaging number of prominent speakers to campus, under the auspices of the college’s Fitzpatrick Lecture Series.  Bailey is an associate professor of history at Canisius and chair of the History Department.  He joined the college faculty in 2008 as an assistant professor of history with an academic focus on early American history to 1815, American religious history, African-American history, slavery in the Americas, and race and critical race theory. 

“Dr. Bailey’s expertise in the intersection of race and religion, and his ongoing research on public intellectual life fit with the Fitzpatrick endowment’s emphasis on politics, leadership and public life,” said Sara R. Morris, PhD, vice president for academic affairs, in announcing the appointment.  

Bailey is the author of Race and Redemption in Puritan New England and The Salvation of Souls: Nine Previously Unpublished Sermons on the Call of Ministry and the Gospel.  Among other projects, he is currently working on a study of the life, thought and writings of Wendell Berry, identifying the farmer and poet as one of America’s public prophetic voices of both the 20th and 21st centuries.  

Bailey holds a BA in religion from the University of Mobile, AL; a master of divinity degree in Biblical and theological studies from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and a PhD in history from the University of Kentucky. 

The Fitzpatrick Lecture Series at Canisius is part of the larger Fitzpatrick Institute of Public Affairs and Leadership at the college, which provides an array of opportunities for Canisius students to develop leadership potential through close contact with and exposure to those who contribute to American public affairs and societal issues.  

The institute and the Fitzpatrick Lecture Series are named for William H. Fitzpatrick, a South Buffalo builder and longtime chair of the Erie County Democratic Party.  His sons, Paul E. and Walter D. Fitzpatrick, endowed the Fitzpatrick programming at Canisius in 1958, in memory of their father.  A few years later, in 1962, the Hon. Harry S. Truman, 33rdpresident of the United States, inaugurated the Fitzpatrick Lecture Series at Canisius.  Each year since, Canisius has hosted national figures in politics, government, academia and media, including Jane Goodall, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Bernice King, all under the auspices of the Fitzpatrick family.

In addition to the annual lecture series, the Fitzpatrick Institute of Public Affairs and Leadership sponsors and facilitates public affairs and leadership programming, workshops and symposia, as well as travel experiences to Washington D.C., Albany, New York City, and internship experiences in Western New York and beyond.  

It’s always great to hear positive stories in these days of budget cutting and faculty lay-offs in American academia.

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. Amy Coney Barrett and the “Kingdom of God”
  2. Who’s afraid of critical race theory
  3. Trump’s Supreme Court appointee should get a hearing and a vote
  4. The Trump White House does American history
  5. Falwell Jr. wrap-up at The Washington Post
  6. Court evangelical Franklin Graham: America has reached a “boiling point?”
  7. This interview tells us a lot about John MacArthur and the movement he represents
  8. Out of the Zoo: The Stoning of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  9. Robert Jeffress suggests that Tim Keller is a “wimpy Christian” who has “cloaked” his “cowardice in theology”
  10. Spring Arbor University and the “scandal of the evangelical college”

Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem believes that Trump does not tell lies. Also, anyone who believes Trump is trying to “divide us” is bearing false witness”

Last December I wrote a post titled, “Wayne Grudem lives in a different moral universe than I do.” Grudem’s recent interview with World magazine has not changed my mind one bit.

Here is Grudem:

President Trump has made wise decisions regarding the coronavirus pandemic in the midst of misleading, lying information from China and conflicting advice from scientific and economic experts.

“Wise decisions”?

Trump knew the coronavirus was “deadly and airborne” and he refused to tell the American people about it. He held five rallies after he received word of the virus’s deadly nature and did little to address it in the early months. He says he banned travel from China, but this is misleading.

By downplaying the virus, Trump put lives in jeopardy and people died. He empowered anti-maskers and continues to hold mass rallies with no social distancing or masks. He has thousands, if not millions, of followers who think COVID-19 is a “fake.” Thoughtful evangelicals are calling him out for his anti-science views. He has taken medical advice from the My Pillow guy, pushed unproven drugs, and even said that bleach and household disinfectants might help stop the virus. While people die, Trump hawks beans, undermines the country’s chief immunologist, wants to discuss flavored vaping, and retweets game show hosts. Trump has placed his own political ambitions over science. And all the time he claims that he has “total authority.”

Wise decisions?

Grudem goes on:

On racial issues, his leadership led to an economy with the lowest black unemployment since we’ve been keeping records, with great gains among lower-income workers. He pushed for greater school choices in minority neighborhoods and stronger law enforcement to bring more safety to inner cities.

Seriously?

Was Grudem on another planet all summer? Trump is doing everything possible to ignore the cries of the African-American community in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Instead he denies the existence of systemic racism, rallies his white base by attacking critical race theory, connects violent protests to Black churches, says he wants to save the suburbs from rioters (most of whom are black), inspires white supremacists at national parks, retweets people yelling “white power,” and uses the Bible as a political prop to enforce “law and order” and stop a peaceful anti-racism protest. And this is just in the last six months. Let’s not forget Charlottesville, the NBA, and the NFL.

Grudem claims that anyone who says Trump is dividing the country is lying:

It’s bearing false witness against President Trump to say he seeks to divide us. He isn’t responsible for the rioting, the burning of cars, the blocking of public roads and sidewalks that began on day one of his presidency. No Americans legitimately have a fear of physical violence … for putting a Biden sticker on their car or wearing a Joe Biden campaign shirt or hat. But I know many evangelicals, including myself, who fear being physically attacked or shouted at if I were to put a Trump bumper sticker on my car or wear a MAGA or Trump-supporter hat in public.

Does Grudem really believe that Trump is not a divider? Trump has made almost no attempt to bring the country together. His entire presidency is about appealing to his base and hoping that they will give him another four years. To claim that Trump is not a divider, and then go as far to say that anyone who says he is a divider is “bearing false witness,” sounds like comical propaganda.

More Grudem:

I looked at The Washington Post’s list of what it calls 16,000-some “lies” Trump has spoken and examined 20 or 30 of them. They’re what I’d call conclusions drawn by a hostile interpreter of words that a sympathetic listener would understand in a positive way. President Trump is often not careful in some of the things he says. He is given to exaggeration. Sometimes he’s made a statement after being given inaccurate information. I’m not sure he’s ever intentionally affirmed something he knows to be false, which is how I define a lie. As you know, I have written an ethics textbook. I believe it’s never right to affirm X when you believe X is false. If someone wants to point out to me some actual Trump lies that fit that definition, I’d be happy to look at them. 

You can look at The Washington Post list of Trump lies and misleading statements and decide for yourself. Here a a list of just his coronavirus lies and misleading statements. Watch this:

Grudem’s claim about lying is interesting. He says that Trump has never “intentionally affirmed something he knows to be false.” Grudem may be right. Maybe Trump believes all the untruthful things he says are actually true. This may be worse than outright lying because it reveals his incompetence. But Wayne Grudem knows best: “you know, I have written an ethics textbook.” Or maybe he just received a prophetic word.

Here is more:

The Trump presidency has resulted in a stronger economy, stronger national defense, positive steps toward achieving border security, standing up to China and Russia, negotiating new trade agreements, advocating educational freedom, standing with Israel, strengthening our military, and reforming our judicial system. Those are all what seem to me to be evidence of God’s blessing on the nation with President Trump. If he wins again, I expect there will be more blessing on our nation. If Biden is elected, he’ll support abortion, cripple the economy, weaken our military, largely abandon Israel, select more judges who legislate from the bench, weaken religious freedom. We’ll have more crime, a complete federal takeover of our healthcare system, and much more that looks like the withdrawal of God’s blessing.

Not sure where to begin here. The economy is a mess. People are out of work. Russia is trying to undermine our elections. There is no wall.

The rest of Grudem’s statements here are Christian Right talking points that I have addressed over and over again at this blog and in Believe Me. Grudem has no proof that the things he mentions here will take place in a Biden presidency. Abortion, as I have said many times here, is actually declining in America and there is no reason to believe it will not continue to decline during a Biden presidency. Notice how Grudem invokes the idea that the United States is in a covenant relationship with God. This “New Israel” language goes all the way back to the 17th century Puritans in Massachusetts Bay. It is also fits well with Mike Pence’s 2 Chronicles 7:14 rhetoric.

Read the entire interview here.

Did you or your child benefit from a liberal arts or humanities education? Write a letter!

The liberal arts and humanities are in jeopardy right now at colleges and universities. Schools are cutting programs and firing professors in these fields. Spring Arbor University in Michigan just canned one of its best professors. Liberty University and Southwest Baptist University closed their philosophy departments. Gordon College cut its history major and then brought it back. The University of Tulsa dropped degree programs in philosophy, religion, and Russian and Chinese studies. The University of Providence ended programs in art, English, history, sociology, and theology. Missouri Western State University is phasing out programs in history, philosophy, and religion.

In Australia, fees for history courses will rise by 113 % to encourage students to enroll in STEM fields.

Meanwhile, we know that those who study the liberal arts and humanities are less likely to support authoritarian attitudes. I recently made the case that we need the liberal arts more than ever in our current pandemic moment. Earlier this year the president of the University of British Columbia said that education without liberal arts is a “threat to humanity.” The president of Bates College made a compelling case for the liberal arts in her 2017 commencement address. Historian Johann Neem argues that we cannot “think critically” without knowledge.

I know that there are a lot of Americans who have benefited from a liberal arts education. If you are one of these Americans, or if you are a parent with a child who benefited from such an education, I encourage you to write a letter to your college or university president.

What should you put in such a letter?

Tell your story (or the story of your child). Write about how the study of the liberal arts transformed your life and made you a better citizen, community member, or person of faith. If you are parent, write about how your money was well spent.

College administrators are still making tough decisions about the future of the liberal arts and humanities at their institutions and your input is needed. I encourage you to do this even if there are no immediate plans to make cuts in these areas. Presidents and provosts need to know that programs in these areas are making a difference in the lives of their graduates.

Consider Adrian College, a liberal arts college in Michigan. When the college started cutting humanities and liberal arts programs, students and alumni took action and the president reversed the cuts.

Write that letter today! (And please share this post on your blogs and social media pages).