Why Did a 74-Year-Old Amateur Historian Steal a Monument Commemorating the Slave Trade in Charlottesville?

Charlottesville slave block

This is a really interesting story.  Here is a taste of Michael Miller’s piece at The Washington Post:

The humble sign in the sidewalk had often gone unnoticed, overshadowed by the giant Confederate statues towering over it in Charlottesville’s central Court Square.

But Thursday, the small plaque marking a century of slave auctions suddenly went missing, stirring consternation and controversy in a city already struggling with its history.

“It was disturbing,” said Jalane Schmidt, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia. “Although this slave auction plaque was so small and set in the ground and you could walk over it, it was the only thing we had to commemorate the slaves whose lives were torn apart there.”

Schmidt, who has advocated for the removal of Charlottesville’s Confederate statues, initially worried that the plaque had been taken to protest a proposed law that would allow cities in Virginia to remove offensive monuments.

Others feared that it was simply another racist gesture at the site of the 2017 Unite the Right rally, during which a neo-Nazi killed protester Heather Heyer.

Then something odd happened. The culprit publicly confessed.

Read the rest here.

Is Pete Buttigieg the New Jimmy Carter?

Buttigied

Over at The Washington Post, historian J. Brooks Flippen compares the two Democratic political outsiders.  Here is a taste of his piece “Is Pete Buttigieg Jimmy Carter 2.0“:

Like Carter, the former long-shot mayor has emerged as one of the front-runners by winning Iowa and performing well on Tuesday in New Hampshire, finishing a close second. Like the former president, Buttigieg grew up in a middle-class household — Carter’s father was a prominent landowner and Buttigieg’s father a professor. Both served in the Navy, Carter having attended the U.S. Naval Academy and Buttigieg having served with the Naval Reserve in Afghanistan. When they declared their presidential ambitions, both were derided as too inexperienced and thus garnered little media attention.

In response, both demonstrated remarkable self-assurance and confidence, proposing an ambitious agenda early. Both welcomed the civil rights debates that their respective candidacies engendered. Carter had promoted desegregation in his governorship and even in his Southern Baptist Church, while Buttigieg championed gay and lesbian rights, even touting his marriage to a man. In response to ensuing questions and attacks, both cited their faith. In fact, both men made their religions central to their candidacies, Carter famously declaring himself a “born-again Christian” while Buttigieg proclaimed that his faith demanded LBGQT equality.

As they launched their presidential campaigns, both men confronted an energized Democratic electorate, anxious to repudiate the scandal-tarred Republicans. Both faced large Democratic fields initially crowded with accomplished candidates — 17 in 1976 and in 28 in 2020. Neither field, however, had a clear front-runner.

Read the entire piece here.

*Washington Post*: All the 2020 Democratic Candidates Are Running to the Left of Obama

Sanders and Obama

This is true.  As we noted earlier today, Bernie Sanders has pushed the party in a leftward direction.

A taste of the Post‘s recent editorial:

But the fact that Mr. Sanders’s and Ms. Warren’s positioning puts them decidedly to the left of others in the race does not make their competitors “centrist.” All, in fact, have put forward ambitious, progressive platforms for reducing inequality and promoting access to health and education.

Former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg wants to make college free for pretty much everyone — just not for the wealthiest families. He does not favor Medicare-for-all — but he does propose a generous public health-care option that, he predicts, would eventually drive private insurance companies out of business. He just would not force people to move off private plans, as Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren would.

Former vice president Joe Biden may not favor the precise Green New Deal that some activists desire, but he wants to spend a whopping $1.7 trillion to enable the country to eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050, a massive undertaking. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) was the first candidate to roll out a hefty infrastructure plan, proposing $650 billion in federal spending, and she favors legalizing marijuana. Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg would add a 5 percent surtax to income over $5 million per year, raise the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent and tax investment income of high earners at the same rate as ordinary income.

Then there are the policy moves that practically all Democrats agree on: giving legal safe harbor to the young immigrants known as “dreamers”; reviving and expanding President Barack Obama’s climate regulations; reengaging with Iran; raising the minimum wage; keeping abortion legal; cracking down on guns.

In fact, every major Democratic candidate is running on an agenda to the left of Mr. Obama’s.

Read the entire piece here.

When New York Mayors Run for President

John_Lindsay_NYWTS_2

Former New York mayor John Lindsay, October 1965 (Wikimedia)

What do DeWitt Clinton, John Lindsay, Rudy Giuliani, Bill DeBlasio, and Michael Bloomberg have in common? They were all New York City mayors who ran for president.

Here is Ed Kilgore at New York Magazine:

So that brings us to 2020 and Bloomberg. Interestingly enough, he’s emulating Giuliani’s skip-the-early-states strategy, but he’s putting his vast wealth into ensuring that when the calendar does turn to Super Tuesday in March he will be extremely well-known and have a solid campaign in those states. And it’s looking like he is lucking into a landscape in which all of his surviving rivals will have weaknesses he can exploit. Whether it’s a one-on-one cage match with current front-runner Bernie Sanders, or a large field of wounded and underfunded candidates struggling from state to state, Bloomberg is positioned to do a lot better than Rudy did and perhaps as well as or even better than DeWitt Clinton. If he blows this opportunity, it could be a long time before another New York mayor ventures onto the presidential campaign trail.

Read the entire piece here.

Has Trump Learned Any Lessons from His Impeachment?

Trump USA Today

No. None.

Here is CNN:

On Wednesday, Trump publicly praised the Justice Department for reversing its call for a stiff jail term for Stone after his own critical late night tweet that laid bare fears of blatant interference in bedrock US justice.

“I want to thank the Justice Department for seeing this horrible thing. And I didn’t speak to them by the way, just so you understand. They saw the horribleness of a nine-year sentence for doing nothing,” the President told reporters.

He noted that the four prosecutors who quit the Stone case “hit the road,” raising the prospect that their protests failed to introduce accountability to the administration and only served to further hollow out the government and make it more pliable to the President.

Trump denied that he crossed a line. But his tweet left no doubt about what he wanted to happen. And his strategy, in this case and others, actually worked.

Just as he used US government power to smear Joe Biden in the Ukraine scandal, he succeeded in getting favorable treatment for a friend in the Stone case — though the final sentence will be up to a judge.

The Stone affair has also added to evidence that Attorney General William Barr is acting more as the President’s personal lawyer and less to ensure the neutral administration of justice.

Trump’s brazen approach was on also display Wednesday when he was asked what he learned from impeachment — after several GOP senators said they hoped he would take lessons to be restrained.

“That the Democrats are crooked, they got a lot of crooked things going. That they’re vicious, that they shouldn’t have brought impeachment,” Trump told reporters.

Read the entire piece here.

How Bernie Sanders Has Transformed the Democratic Party

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders holds a campaign rally in San Diego

William Jennings Bryan, George McGovern, Jesse Jackson, and Barry Goldwater all failed in their bids for the presidency.  But their ideas lived on and profoundly shaped the future of their parties.  According to historian Michael Kazin, Bernie Sanders is doing the same thing.

Here is a taste of his New York Times piece “Bernie Sanders Has Already Won“:

Since he began running for president five years ago, Senator Sanders and his supporters have nudged Democrats to take stands to the left of where the center of the party was when Barack Obama moved out of the White House. Every remaining candidate for president now endorses either Medicare for All or a robust public option, doubling the minimum wage, much higher taxes on the rich, legislation to facilitate union organizing and a transition to an economy based on sources of renewable energy. Even if the delegates in Milwaukee this summer choose a different nominee, they will surely endorse such policies and make them central to the drive to make Donald Trump a one-term president.

So whatever his electoral fate, the socialist from Vermont who is pushing 80 is likely to be remembered as a more transformative figure than many politicians who won an election but whom most Americans were quite glad to put behind them. Mr. Sanders wants to be the next Franklin Roosevelt — but if he can’t, better to be the next William Jennings Bryan or Jesse Jackson than the next William Howard Taft.

Read the entire piece here.

Will Springsteen Tour with the E Street Band in 2020?

87685-springsteen

The rumors may not be true. Here is Chris Jordan at the Asbury Park Press:

A band album and tour in 2020 seemed like a sure thing a few months ago, but now band members are making other plans for the upcoming year.

“Let’s just say I thought I was going to be busier than I am,” said Little Steven Van Zandt Wednesday, Feb. 12 on Sirius XM’s E Street Radio channel. “So at the moment, 2020 seems to have opened up.”

Van Zandt was replying to a question about his upcoming plans.

Max Weinberg is also making other plans for 2020.

Read the rest here.

Ron Sider: “Bernie Sanders WOULD RE-ELECT Donald Trump!”

Bernie

It is hard to argue with Ronald Sider‘s recent blog post.  As many of you know, Sider is one of the founders and leaders of the evangelical left. (Although in this day and age his politics seem pretty moderate).

Here is a taste:

If Bernie Sanders becomes the Democratic candidate for president, Donald Trump will beat him this November. And Trump’s second term will be disastrous for our country and the world.

Sanders becoming the Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 is now a clear possibility. He did very well in Iowa, won in New Hampshire last night, and is ahead in Nevada. And he has lots of money to campaign effectively across the nation.

But Trump would easily defeat Sanders in November. For  at least two basic reasons: first, this country will not elect a self-described socialist; and second,  his dogmatic commitment to a single payer, government run healthcare system (“Medicare for All”)  would be a political disaster this November.

Read the rest here.

I like Bernie and I am drawn to a lot of his economic populism.  But the United States is still not yet ready for him.  I can’t imagine my south-central Pennsylvania neighbors–even Democrats–voting for a guy  who wants to take away their private health care and replace it with another government program.  And let’s face it, the next president is going to need Pennsylvania.

White Christians Lynching Black Pastors

Vigilante_Lynching_Helena_1870

Here is a taste of Malcolm Foley‘s piece at The Conversation: “Lynching Preachers: How black pastors resisted Jim Crow and white pastors incited racial violence”:

So black ministers weren’t often lynching victims, but they could be targeted if they got in the way.

I.T. Burgess, a preacher in Putnam County, Florida, was hanged in 1894 after being accused of planning to instigate a revolt, according to a May 30, 1894, story in the Atlanta Constitution newspaper. Later that year, in December, the Constitution also reported, Lucius Turner, a preacher near West Point, Georgia, was shot by two brothers for apparently writing an insulting note to their sister.

Ida B. Wells wrote in her 1895 editorial “A Red Record” about Reverend King, a minister in Paris, Texas, who was beaten with a Winchester Rifle and placed on a train out of town. His offense, he said, was being the only person in Lamar County to speak against the horrific 1893 lynching of the handyman Henry Smith.

In each of these cases, the victim’s profession was ancillary to their lynching. But preaching was not incidental to black pastors’ resistance to lynching.

My dissertation research shows black pastors across the U.S. spoke out against racial violence during its worst period, despite the clear danger that it put them in.

Read the rest here.

Who Was David Ruggles?

RugglesColgate University historian Graham Hodges introduces us to David Ruggles, America’s “first full-time black activist.”  Here is a taste of his piece at Zocalo Public Square:

After he escaped from slavery in Baltimore in early September 1838, Frederick Bailey was broke, homeless, and scared. As he huddled among barrels in New York City’s Chambers Street dock, the man who later became known as Frederick Douglass worried about slave catchers and rats. Suddenly a large black man wearing a stove pipe hat, spectacles, and a formal jacket and pants emerged and invited Douglass to his home at 36 Lispenard Street, just a few blocks away.

Douglass’ savior was none other than David Ruggles, a free black man who was the secretary and general organizer of the New York Committee of Vigilance or NYCV, an abolitionist organization that battled slave catchers, kidnappers, and slave traders—and offered succor to hundreds of self-liberated people.

David Ruggles was arguably the first full-time black activist in the United States. He operated New York’s first library and bookstore for black people, edited and sold newspapers and magazines, and founded a black high school and a literary society. An innovator, he combined his activism with commerce by operating a grocery that only sold products made without enslaved labor. Over the course of his life, Ruggles was a true 19th-century Renaissance Man, a visionary political leader, a savvy street fighter, and a healer. He didn’t share Frederick Douglass’ fame or good fortune, but he was an indelible influence on the younger man—crucial to forging the legend that Douglass was to become.

In his 1845 narrative and in subsequent writings, Douglass used capital letters when he credited Ruggles with saving his freedom. He wasn’t being hyperbolic. Having fled from slavery in Maryland, Douglass was highly vulnerable to slave catchers or “black birds” who preyed upon northern African Americans, seizing them to exchange for cash and shipment into perpetual bondage in the South. During Douglass’ first 10 days out of enslavement, it was Ruggles’ home he stayed in as he launched his life as a free man. There Douglass married his fiancé, Anna Murray, in a ceremony at Ruggles’ house officiated by Reverend James W. C. Pennington, who escaped from slavery himself in 1828 and now served as pastor of the First Congregational Church of Hartford, Connecticut.

Read the rest here.

John Inazu’s Advice for White Evangelicals

InazuInazu teaches law at Washington University in St. Louis.  He is the author of Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference and the forthcoming (with Tim Keller) Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference. Here is a taste of his recent piece at Christianity Today:

First, pay more attention to your words. Stop saying you’re living in a “post-Christian” country or that you are the “new minority.” These assertions generate antagonism rather than empathy. Similarly, take care in how you describe others. Invoking tropes like “social justice warriors” or “the gay agenda” assumes the same kinds of stereotypes that you don’t want people using against you. And invoking these tropes ignores the commandment to love others and treat them as individual image-bearers. By all means, speak truth and critique bad arguments and unjust policies. But don’t settle for lazy generalities and ad hominem attacks.

Second, diversify your personal networks. This won’t always be easy or obvious everywhere, but if you look closely, you’ll find people who, at the very least, think differently than you do. Some of you will need to risk finding your first cross-racial friendship. That might mean going to nonwhite spaces and institutions to learn and to experience the discomfort of a cultural baseline that is not your own. You should also diversify the leadership of your institutions. Who is in the room determines which questions get asked, and white evangelical institutions will not escape their insularity without greater racial diversity in circles of power.

Third, show up and take risks. If you want to be known as a pro-life people, advocate for all stages of life. Speak out about dehumanizing and family-separating policies like immigration detention centers and mass incarceration with the same fervor you have for religious freedom and opposition to abortion. Risk uncertain and messy relationships with your neighbors to help repair the social fabric. Step outside of your comfort zones and partner in common-ground causes with progressive and mainline Christians, with people of other faiths, and with nonbelievers. Defend the rights of Muslim Americans, Jewish Americans, and Americans of no faith. Stand up against bullying of LGBT people. Look for opportunities to seek counsel from and promote women rather than avoiding them because of the Billy Graham Rule or the Mike Pence Rule. None of these opportunities threatens your faith. But they all require rethinking the assumptions that come from cultural, racial, and relational insularity.

Will these suggestions win you political favor? Maybe not. But, frankly, political expediency matters far less than the faithful witness of the church. And these suggestions will help you toward a more faithful witness by lessening your insularity. They will lead to less fear and more hope. They will move you closer toward the example of Jesus, who stepped into messy and uncertain spaces with people who were different from him. And that seems worth doing regardless of what is to come in this world—because it is what the gospel asks of those whose citizenship lies in heaven and who believe that he who conquered death will prevail over all other earthly challenges as well.

Read the entire piece here.

Is Michael Bennett Still Running for President?

Michael Bennet during the New Hampshire Primary

You may not see his name listed when the cable news shows list the incoming results, but according to Evan Malmgren’s piece at the Baffler, Michael Bennett is still running for president.

Here is a taste:

If Bennet’s primary strategy and political positioning echoes Gary Hart’s, his New Hampshire gamble is even more of a fantastical long shot. Bennet is polling below half a percentage point in the statewide Real Clear Politics average, but he’s nonetheless invested in thirty-five paid staffers there—a significant fielding for a candidate who has raised less than $7 million over the entire election cycle—and he has spent the last two months traipsing up and down the state on a fifty-stop town hall tour called “the Real Deal Road Trip.”

I attended the fiftieth stop of this political death march, a rally in Manchester, and found what might have been an impressive showing, had Bennet been running for county treasurer. A crowd of more than two hundred packed the event space as Bennet droned on with a tempered and unfocused speech. “Among all the candidates in this race, I have the most —” Bennet stammered and paused, seemingly unsure of what, exactly, he has the most of. After some thought, he landed on a vague Obama-ism. “I have the plan that is most targeted towards, how do we allow people to stay in the middle class that are in the middle class.”

No one seemed to be paying complete attention; the people around me issued disjointed claps at seemingly random intervals. Eventually, the campaign wheeled out its “star slugger” for a brief appearance: James Carville, one-time architect of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign who is better known today as a minor septuagenarian tastemaker among the MSNBC-addicted crowd. That he has endorsed Bennet’s 2020 presidential campaign is all you need to know about his continued relevance. At the rally, Carville rammed Bernie Sanders as an “ideologue” and spoke to his personal desire for Democrats to win in 2020, but he said almost nothing about Bennet’s vision in particular. “They’ll run away from Bernie Sanders like the devil running away from holy water,” Carville claimed of down-ballot Democratic candidates in conservative states, a convoluted metaphor that managed to compare hypothetical future fans of Bennet’s uninspiring program to Satan himself.

The rally ended with an awkward New Orleans twist, as the speakers blared a Cajun tune and Carville donned a Mardi Gras mask before tossing beads into the crowd, abruptly leaving to catch a flight.

Read the entire piece here.

The Problem With the “Reluctant” Trump Voter: A Response to Andrew Walker’s *National Review* Essay

trump-evangelicals

Yesterday several readers sent me Andrew T. Walker‘s National Review essay, “Understanding Why Religious Conservatives Would Vote for Trump.” Walker teaches Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

Walker writes in a very irenic tone as he challenges Christian anti-Trumpers to work harder at understanding why so many evangelicals will once again vote for Donald Trump in 2020.  If I understand him correctly, he seems to suggest that if evangelical anti-Trumpers like me or David French or Peter Wehner or Michael Gerson (he mentions none of us by name) would only empathize more deeply with the motivations of evangelical Trump voters they would be less critical of the their fellow Christians who support this corrupt president. Walker calls attention to the “reluctant” Trump voter.

One of the regrets I have about the hardback edition of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump was my failure to capture diversity within the 81% of white evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump.  The postscript I wrote for the recently released paperback edition seeks to correct this lack of nuance. Walker does a nice job of explaining why so many evangelicals, many whom despise Trump, felt the need to vote for the reality television star in 2016 and feel the need to vote for him again in 2020.  This complicates the narrative we often hear from journalists and pundits who have little understanding of evangelical political culture.

As I have noted many times before, I spend a lot of time with evangelicals of the pro-Trump variety.  I attend an evangelical church and know many Trump supporters who attend that church.  My entire extended family voted for Trump.  Fox News forms, shapes, and disciples many members of my family and other pro-Trump evangelicals I know.  I live in central Pennsylvania–Trump country.  I can’t speak for Gerson, Wehner or French, but I do not accept the premise that all anti-Trump evangelicals are out of touch with average evangelical Trump voters.  In fact, I wrote Believe Me precisely BECAUSE I understand the mind of the evangelical Trump voter.  This is why I can say that Walker does a nice job of describing them in this National Review essay.  As a historian, my job is to empathize and understand. I made every effort to do that in Believe Me.  So when I write harsh things about evangelical Trump supporters, it is because I have done the necessary work to make sense of them. In Why Study History I made the case that understanding must always proceed moral critique. In Believe Me–a work of both history and moral critique–I took my own advice.

As I see it, my effort to grasp the logic of pro-Trump evangelical voters has allowed me to argue strongly that their decision to vote for Trump has proven harmful to the church and the country.  The “if you only understood Trump voters you would be less critical” argument does not jibe with me.

Walker writes: “Those who make this calculation [to vote for Trump] are not sell-outs, nor have they forfeited the credibility of their values carte blanche. For blind allegiance does not explain the voting relationship. That religious conservatives are not progressives does.”

I think Walker is correct when he says that most evangelical Christians are religious conservatives who do not agree with the progressive agenda.  (Here Walker seems to be making the common mistake of lumping all Democrats into the “progressive” camp. This rhetorical move is quite common among the Christian Right.  It is in the political interest of the Christian Right to portray all Democrats as socialists, progressives, or members of the so-called “Squad“–people for whom evangelicals should be deeply afraid). But why are evangelical Christians religious conservatives?  Why are they so bound to this particular political ideology?  This is the deeper question I tried to raise and address in Believe Me.

Christianity and conservatism are not the same thing. Christianity and progressivism are not the same thing.  I think Walker would agree with both of these assertions.  As pastor-theologian Tim Keller has reminded us, Christianity cuts across party lines.  In my view, if you take the teachings of Christianity seriously you are going to find some common ground with conservatives, Republicans, the Green Party, democratic socialists, progressives, Democrats, and a host of other political factions, ideologies, and movements.  You are also going to reject certain tenets of these factions, ideologies, and movements.  We need to work harder to get evangelical voters to understand this.

Walker’s essay is framed by an evangelical approach to politics that I do not accept. I don’t know if Walker would see himself as a member of the Christian Right, but his piece is based on the presupposition that the Christian Right playbook, forged in the late 1970s by the Moral Majority, is the best Christian approach to politics. More on this below.

And what about the “reluctant Trump voter?”  Again, I understand why someone would choose Trump over Hillary in 2016.  I also understand why someone would choose Trump over any of the current Democratic candidates in 2020. The Christian Right playbook teaches evangelicals to vote for the president who will appoint conservative Supreme Court justices.  If you care about abortion or religious liberty, you must hold your nose and vote for Trump. But if you choose this route, and follow this playbook, please do not pretend that you are not responsible in some way for all the additional baggage that comes with such a vote–the coarsening of our moral culture, the demonizing of political opponents, the use of evangelical Christianity as a political weapon, the damage to the witness of the Gospel in the world, the racism, the nativism, the separation of children from parents, etc. etc.   That’s on you.  You have empowered Trump to do these things.

Walker writes that “reluctant” Trump voters approach politics with far more complexity and internal tension than journalists claim. He invokes Augustine: “Some religious conservatives may see the world in moral terms–right and wrong; black and white.  But there’s a long moral tradition, as far back as Augustine, that sees our world in shades of gray.”

There is definitely some truth to Walker’s appeal to Augustine here.  As I noted above, the 81% are not all the same.

But I also think Walker is giving these reluctant Trump voters too much credit for their commitment to “complexity.”

As I see it, evangelicals who vote for Trump do so because they have embraced the Christian Right playbook I mentioned above. I wrote about this playbook extensively in Believe Me.  It has great power over evangelical voters.  Thoughtful evangelicals like Gerson, James Davison Hunter, James K.A. Smith, Ronald Sider, John Inazu and others have offered Christian approaches to politics that do not rely on a playbook focused on the pursuit of power for the purpose of advancing one or two moral issues.  These alternative evangelical approaches to politics are rooted in sound biblical and theological thinking. They are worthy of consideration. But they often get little traction because the Christian Right has been so successful in shaping the evangelical political mind.

I would argue that the “reluctant Trump voter” is essentially operating under the same political playbook as the enthusiastic Trump voter.  If you drill down, there is not much difference between Robert Jeffress or Franklin Graham and the reluctant Trump voter.  Neither show a lot of complexity or “shades of gray” when they think about political and public engagement.  There is one playbook, they learned it from Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and they continue to execute it.  And where has this playbook led evangelicals?  Straight into the hands of Donald Trump.

Walker also plays the “Beto O’Rourke card”:

But an event on October 10, 2019 explains the odd-couple relationship of religious conservatives and Donald Trump. That evening, during a CNN townhall on LGBTQ issues, the now-former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke proclaimed that churches failing to toe the line on gay and transgender rights would lose their tax-exempt status in his administration. O’Rourke’s comments represented a high-water mark of a culture that has jettisoned anything resembling a Christian moral ecology. Never mind that O’Rourke’s candidacy is over. It was an Overton Window–shifting moment.

When O’Rourke made these comments I roundly criticized him  O’Rourke’s comments were stupid.  Many of his fellow Democratic candidates also rejected them.

Walker is correct when he claims that O’Rourke’s remarks scared many evangelicals. But he fails to address the deeper issues at work here. Trump and the Christian Right are masters at using extreme examples to frighten evangelicals. They have convinced more rank and file evangelicals that O’Rourke’s comments, and others like them, are representative of those evil “progressives” who are trying to undermine their supposedly Christian nation.  We can’t ignore this kind of fear-mongering.  As I argued in Believe Me, it permeates every dimension of Christian Right politics today.  It is also based on half-truths.  Yes, there are some Democratic politicians who are going after churches, but most of them are not.

Trump’s policies and political rhetoric build upon such extreme, and much celebrated, cases.

Here are two examples of this:.

First, from Believe Me:

Donald Trump himself, during his 2016 campaign, [claimed] that crime was rising when it was actually falling.  He attempted to portray refugees and undocumented immigrants as threats to the American public even though the chances that an American will die at the hands of a refugee terrorist is about one in 3.6. million; the chance of being murdered by an undocumented immigrant is one in 10.9 million per year.  One is more likely to die from walking across a railroad track or having one’s clothes spontaneously catch on fire.  Yet Trump managed to convince Americans that immigrants are “imminent threats” to their safety.”

Second, let’s take Trump’s recent “guidance” on school prayer.  On January 16, 2020, Trump made a public defense of prayer in public schools.  As I wrote at the time, this proclamation changed nothing.  Students have always had the right to pray in school.  The real reason for Trump’s proclamation on prayer was political–he wants evangelical votes in 2020.

Indeed, some evangelical leaders believe that the forces of secularization are trying to remove prayer and other Christian organizations from public schools.  But is this really happening at a significant rate?  While there have been some cases in which a school district has failed to uphold the Supreme Court’s protections over prayer in schools, these cases have gained national headlines because the Christian Right and Fox News have made a big deal about them.  I wonder if these cases are representative of what is actually happening in most public schools today.

Yesterday I was talking to a student who works with a well-known evangelical youth organization that has a strong presence at public high schools.  This student told me that the local school district actually supports the work of this organization.  Similarly, my children were involved in prayer-groups and Christian organizations in their public schools that received no resistance from district administrators.

Again, I ask, are school districts really trying to stop students from praying?  And even if the answer to this question is an unqualified “yes,” is an embrace of Donald Trump really worth it in the long run?  To answer such a question, it seems one would need to think in a complex and nuanced way about the matter. Any attempt to diagnose this problem would need to recognize shades of gray.  An evangelical concerned about religious liberty might benefit from knowing more about serious legislation like “Fairness for All” or proposals such as “Confident Pluralism,” both thoughtful Christian responses to the place of religious liberty in a pluralistic society. But the Christian Right playbook offers no such nuance or complexity.  There is only one way of doing politics and any consideration of a Christian approach to politics that is not driven by fear, power, and nostalgia is off the table.  Why should evangelicals consider complexity and nuance when there are culture war battles to be won? Evangelicals may find Trump’s character and policies to be disgusting, but if he is going to help them win these battles, then he deserves their support.

And now let’s turn to abortion.  Walker writes about his friend Steve:

Steve is a white evangelical in his forties, a middle-school teacher, the father of two daughters, and a deacon at his Southern Baptist church. These are identities that media narratives depict as culprits for Trump’s ascension: White, male, Christian, middle-class, husband, father. He’s the token “white evangelical” that the media depicts as red-state reprobates.

But there is more to Steve. Steve serves the homeless, sees diversity as a pillar of God’s creation, and helped an Iraqi refugee family resettle in his own hometown. I daresay he cares more about justice in real life than those who preen about it on Twitter.

Steve voted for Trump, and will again. Why? For one, he thinks abortion is America’s Holocaust, and will not support any party that supports abortion on demand. Whatever Trump’s eccentricities are, Steve won’t vote for a progressive, even if the media tells him that to do so would save America and its institutions. For Steve, saving abstractions like “America” and its “institutions” can make America a lot less worthy of survival if abortion on demand continues apace. To the average religious conservative, in fact, saving America means saving it from the scourge of abortion.

Like Steve, I am pro-life.  I think abortion is a serious moral problem.  In Believe Me I call it a “horrific practice.” We need to be working hard to reduce the number of abortions that take place in the United States–even working to eliminate the practice entirely.  But when it comes to politics, Steve embraces a Christian Right political playbook that has taught him the only way of dealing with abortion is to overturn Roe v. Wade. Steve cares about social justice and the poor, and probably believes that the church or other non-profit organizations should have some role in helping pregnant mothers carry their babies to term, but when it comes to politics he believes that the election of a candidate who promises to appoint pro-life justices is the best way of ending abortion.

Steve knows that there are other ways of reducing abortions.  He may even know that overturning Roe v. Wade will not end abortion in America. But rather than acting with some degree of realism on this issue, or trying to think of ways of reducing abortions that do not rely heavily on electoral politics, Steve shows very little nuance or complexity in his thinking about the best way to tackle this moral issue.  Instead he follows the Christian Right playbook and it leads him, again, straight into the hands of Donald Trump.

I wish more evangelical Trump voters would see the world in shades of gray, especially in the way they do politics. I wish they were not bound by such a reductionist, “black and white,” political vision.

On Teaching Writing, Christian Thinking, and Meaning-Making

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As many of you know, this semester I am teaching three sections of a Messiah College course called Created and Called for Community (CCC).  This is a required course for first-year Messiah students. They take it in the second semester at the college.

CCC has three main goals:

  1. It serves as one of two first-year writing courses required of all Messiah College students.
  2. It introduces students to Christian higher education and how Messiah College approaches the task of Christian higher education. This is a course on Christian thinking.
  3. It teaches students how to read and engage texts.  We challenge students to “make meaning”out of these texts through close reading and conversation.

On Monday, we spent the entire class period preparing students for the 500-750 word analytical essay they will submit at the end of the week.  The essay will engage a class reading on Christian education.  Students have three choices here: Stanley Hauerwas’s essay “Go With God,” Ernest Boyer’s “Retaining the Legacy of Messiah College,” and John Henry Newman’s “What is a University?”  Once students pick an article, they will narrow their focus to one central claim or argument and build an essay around it.  They will either write an “agree or disagree” essay or an “amplification” essay.

As I talked to the students about how to compose this essay, I warned them about separating the logistics of writing (thesis statements, summarizing, arguing, opening paragraphs, conclusions) from the other two stated goals of CCC.  Many first-year students don’t naturally make the connection between writing and thinking. They also don’t see writing as a spiritual discipline–a way of worshiping God with their minds.

We talked a lot about how to write in a nuanced, complex, and humble way.  First-year college students have opinions, but those opinions are not fully formed.  They are in no position to “agree” or “disagree” at any deep level with people like Stanley Hauerwas, Ernest Boyer, or John Henry Newman.  This should not stop them from trying, but such writing must remain humble.  I hope I did not offend students when I told them that they are not (yet?) as smart as Hauerwas, Boyer, and Newman.  Neither do they know as much about the subject of Christian education as these esteemed writers.  If they disagree with the central premise of one of these articles, they still must write as if these authors can teach them something about how to think Christianly about their college experience.  If students can develop this kind of nuanced and complex writing, and translate it to the way they engage the world, we may well be on our way to avoiding the kind of polarizing public discourse we find in the country today.

On Wednesday we are reading Boyer’s essay on Messiah College. Follow the class here.

Another Christian College is Closing its Doors

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Concordia University–Portland, a Missouri-Synod Lutheran institution of higher education in Portland, Oregon, will close at the end of the Spring 2020 semester.  Here is the press release:

Concordia University – Portland’s Board of Regents has voted that the University will cease operations at the end of the Spring 2020 academic semester. The resolution was approved February 7, 2020 at 6:00 p.m. PST. The Board’s decision came after years of mounting financial challenges, and a challenging and changing educational landscape.

“After much prayer and consideration of all options to continue Concordia University – Portland’s 115-year legacy, the Board of Regents concluded that the university’s current and projected enrollment and finances make it impossible to continue its educational mission,” said Interim President Dr. Thomas Ries. “We have come to the decision this is in the best interest of our students, faculty, staff and partners.”

April 25, 2020 will mark the last commencement ceremony at the Concordia University – Portland campus. May 2, 2020 will mark the commencement ceremony for the graduating class of Concordia University School of Law. The Board made this decision to prioritize the well-being of students, faculty, and staff and fulfill its fiduciary obligations. In the Board’s best judgment, a thoughtful and orderly closure process offers the best possible outcome for all affected parties.

Throughout this process, students, faculty and staff will remain the top priority. The University is in active discussions with our accrediting bodies to provide our students the opportunity to continue their educational journey under the guidance of new institutions that fit their needs and can help faculty and staff transition to the next phase of their professional lives.

The Northeast Portland campus has been a part of the Portland community for more than a hundred years. Upon closure, the University will return the Northeast property to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and one of the lenders, the Lutheran Church Extension Fund. It is expected they will seek a buyer for the 24-acre campus property.

As soon as more information is known, it will be shared.

It is getting more and more difficult for small, enrollment-driven, church-related colleges to survive.

Joanne Freeman: “Naming the alleged whistle-blower is much worse than tearing up a speech”

State of the Union

Yale historian Joanne Freeman is the author of The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War.  In her recent op-ed at The New York Times, she brings some historical perspective to last week’s political antics in Washington D.C.  Here is a taste:

Republicans heard that message loud and clear, denouncing [Nancy Pelosi for] her incivility, accusing her of shredding “decades of tradition” and demanding her resignation. It was the “most classless act ever conducted in Congress,” Ian Miles Cheong, the managing editor of the conservative website Human Events, charged.

But was it? Not by a long shot; when it comes to misconduct, Congress has a long history. Congressmen have pulled guns on each other. They’ve shoved and punched each other, and smacked at foes with fireplace tongs. They’ve engaged in mass brawls, toppling desks, tossing spittoons and, in one case, yanking off a toupee. The most famous violence in congressional history is the caning of the abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina on the Senate floor in 1856, but it was not an anomaly…

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky used the same form of showmanship when he exposed the alleged whistle-blower’s name during impeachment proceedings last Tuesday. Days after Chief Justice John Roberts refused to read a question from Mr. Paul that revealed the name, Mr. Paul did the deed himself. During a period reserved for impeachment speeches, he read his question aloud while standing next to a large blue poster with the name in bold yellow, endangering the whistle-blower and violating the spirit of whistle-blower protection laws in the process; although those laws are meant to protect informants from retaliation, they don’t explicitly stop members of Congress or the president from revealing names. Tradition and ethics alone keep them silent.

Although not strictly speaking illegal, Mr. Paul’s actions were wrong, and some Republican colleagues said as much, privately admitting that they “probably” wouldn’t have done it. But for Mr. Paul, violating norms was the point. By exposing the name — and getting away with it — he was warning off potential whistle-blowers-to-be.

Read the entire piece here.

Will Future Students Read Mitt Romney’s Speech Against Trump’s Acquittal?

Eliot Cohen, Dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, thinks Romney’s speech will be read for a long time.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Atlantic, “In the Long Run, Romney Wins“:

Political speeches derive their power and durability from authenticity, from the way in which phrases and sentences seem to emanate directly from a personality and its vision. That is why Lincoln’s speeches will never lose their force: They captured the dignity, simplicity, and courage of the man who made them. Romney is no Lincoln, but he wrote the speech, and the voice is his.

Yet more is at work here than the powerful words. The speech contained all the elements of drama: the man of quiet faith, whose presidential campaign underplayed his charitable works; the handsome politician, whose political career involved both high office and the failure to achieve it; the public figure, who briefly became a hero to opponents who had shamefully vilified him seven years earlier; the successful businessman, who returned repeatedly to public affairs; the patriarch of a large and loving family, whose own niece repeatedly yielded her conscience to the man he rightly condemned. Comparing Romney with the grifter president and his venal clan yields an instructive contrast.

The Romney story plays to something very deep in the American self-conception, to myth—not in the sense of fairy tale or falsehood, but of something Americans want to believe about who they are and who, because of what they want to believe, they can become. Americans embrace the story of the lone man or woman of conscience who does the right thing, knowing that the risks are high. They remember Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat for a white passenger on a Montgomery bus in 1955, but forget the three other passengers who prudently moved. They relish the staple theme of Western stories and films—John Wayne in Stagecoach saying, “Well, there’s some things a man just can’t run away from.” They honor John Adams for defending British soldiers accused of shooting down his fellow Americans, in an era when tar and feathers could be the consequence of that act. In an altogether different vein, they laud Henry David Thoreau for choosing civil disobedience and marching to the beat of his own drum, resolved to remain indifferent to what his fellow Yankees thought of him.

Read the entire piece here.

Jerry Falwell Jr. Represents Everything Wrong With Evangelical Christianity Right Now

Watch him on Fox News:

1. Please stop quoting Jesus.

2. To say that Romney should not bring his religion into politics is rich–very rich– coming from the son of Jerry Falwell and the guy who just started a “think tank” to “go on offense in the name of Judeo-Christian principles and in the name of exceptional, God-given American liberties.”

3. Someone should tell Jerry Falwell Jr. that what Trump said about Mitt Romney and Nancy Pelosi at the National Prayer Breakfast contradicts the teachings of Jesus.

This is just sad.

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

The exclamation point!

Frederick Douglass on Reconstruction

Praying for Trump

Are you a jerk?

Introvert teachers

The return of James Carville

Slavery, Native Americans, and the closing words of the Declaration of Independence

Historian James Kloppenberg on his former student Pete Buttigieg’s intellectual influences

Remembering Kobe: “One good teacher is worth ten star ball players.  Ten at least.”

The rise and fall of Perry Miller

Cal Thomas thinks we should suspend the National Prayer Breakfast

On the making of gospel music

A beginners guide to online “Christian influencers

Marilynne Robinson announces the next book in the Gilead series

The 1913 Gettysburg reunion

When Romney said nothing at all

A classicist reflects on the Trump impeachment trial

A pro-life Democrat leaves the party and joins the American Solidarity Party