“White evangelicals don’t all sit in the same pew”

19Susan Campbell, a reporter at the Hartford Courant and a professor at the University of New Haven who has written about American fundamentalism, reminds us that not all evangelicals are the same.

The #19percent-ers are still out there.

Here is a taste of her piece:

If you are a white evangelical Christian who doesn’t support Donald Trump, expect to explain yourself — a lot.

Evangelicals — roughly defined as people who believe in conversion experiences, have a personal relationship with Jesus, and stress the importance of the Bible as their foundational document – have been a political force at least since the bicentennial, when Newsweek declared 1976 “The Year of the Evangelical.” That year, half of evangelicals voted for one of their own, Jimmy Carter, a real, live Baptist Sunday school teacher.

That’s a hefty margin, but last November, some 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump, who is evangelical neither in word nor deed.

The theories as to what attracted white evangelicals to the most flawed president in history are many, but understand this: White evangelicals don’t all sit in the same pew, and those who didn’t flock to Trump are left with a feeling that the brand has been sullied by their fellows’ support for the most flawed president in history.

“Even to this day, I struggle with whether I should still identify as an evangelical, but I think it’s a term worth fighting for,” says Ben Dubow, executive chef, director of culinary education and nutritional services at MACC Charities (MACC stands for Manchester Area Conference of Churches) and co-lead pastor at Hartford’s Riverfront Family Church. “It’s a movement worth fighting for,” particularly considering the social justice issues that engage evangelicals — including one of Dubow’s missions, feeding the hungry.

Read the entire piece here.

Court Evangelical Jeffress Defends “Make America Great Again” Song

I actually thought the “Make America Great Again” song was pretty catchy.  (It starts at about the 34:00 mark in the video below):

I was, however, surprised at the way Robert Jeffress, the pastor First Baptist Church–Dallas, defended the song against critics who thought it was inappropriate for a church choir.

In a recent interview at The Christian Post, Jeffress said:

There is no difference in singing “Make America Great Again” than there is in singing any other patriotic song, like the “Star Spangled Banner.” This song was sung at a patriotic rally at a concert hall on Saturday night, not sung in a church as a worship song on Sunday morning.

Fair enough.  I was willing to give Jeffress a pass here.  But then he says that the song is okay because it was “not sung in a church as a worship song on Sunday morning.” Oh boy.  By this logic,  how does Jeffress explain what happened at First Baptist–Dallas on Sunday, June 25, 2017?

Patheos blogger Jonathan Aigner recently wrote about the “Make America Great Song”:

It’s not only their candidate’s campaign slogan, it’s now a part of their gospel…It’s their mantra, their creed, their prayer, and they shout it out with nationalistic fervor. Pledging allegiance to God and to America in the same breath, melding together the Kingdom of God and self, they pray a blasphemous prayer to a red, white, and blue Jesus.”

Frankly, it is hard to see this any other way when the song is interpreted (like any historian would interpret it) in the context of the June 25, 2017 “Freedom Sunday” service and Jeffress’s remarks of introduction for Trump after the song was performed last Saturday night.

The Jeffress interview does not stop there.  He describes his evangelical critics as “gnats”:

They are absolutely nothing but evangelical gnats who are looking for any excuse to nibble at the president. What we do have in President Trump is the president who has done the most to protect religious liberty of any president in America…If you take these critics’ argument to their logical end, then Christians need to quit saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

Actually, some Christians do think that they need to quit saying the Pledge of Allegiance. I am not one of them, but I fully understand why some of my fellow Christians might find this problematic.

And then Jeffress continues:

These evangelical Never Trumpers are incensed because President Trump’s election demonstrated how irrelevant they are to Christians. Christians did not listen to these Never Trumpers, in spite of all their blogs and all of their tweets about President Trump,” Jeffress said. “If anybody listened objectively to what President Trump said Saturday night, it was the most god-honoring, faith-affirming speech I have ever heard any president give at any time in history.

“At any time in history?”  I can think of at least five (and probably more) Obama speeches that were more “faith-affirming” than what Trump said last Saturday night.  But let’s go back even further.  How about Lincoln’s Second Inaugural for starters?

Jeffress is probably correct when he says that Trump’s election demonstrated the irrelevance of the evangelical “Never Trumpers.” What scares me here Jeffress’s attempt to equate the “relevance” or popularity of a particular political view with whether or not such a view is correct or moral.  Do we really want to go there?  Anyone who knows anything about American history will understand what I mean when I ask this question.

Apparently Jeffress’s new moral standard is 81%.

I remain a faithful #19percenter.

This Video Proves Why Robert Jeffress is the Court Evangelical of All Court Evangelicals

Watch it if you can stomach it.  The court evangelicals were out in force at the Kennedy Center last night.  Paula White was also there.

In just under 6 minutes:

  • Jeffress claimed that “our nation was founded on a love for God and a reverence for His word.”  Is this correct?  I am wrestling with this question all weekend @johnfea1 and at #ChristianAmerica?. We are posting every 30 minutes during Fourth of July weekend.  Or you can just go get a copy of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.  This Christian nation stuff never goes away.  Christians (the followers of David Barton and his ilk will not listen to non-Christians) need to offer an alternative narrative to this way of thinking about American history.  We are here, but we don’t have the resources or the funding.
  • Jeffress dabbles here in American exceptionalism.  He sounds like a 17th-century Puritan delivering a jeremiad calling the new Israel back to its spiritual roots. Jeffress asks “Has God removed his hand of blessing from us?” Earlier today someone on Twitter reminded me of a 2012 statement from Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.  He was writing about the idea that the United States is a Christian or chosen nation.  Anderson said “The Bible only uses the word ‘Christian’ to describe people and not countries.”
  • Jeffress suggests that Donald Trump is a messianic figure who God raised up to save Christian America from despair.  He says, “but in the midst of that despair came November the 8th, 2016 (wild applause) and that day represented the greatest political upset in American history.  Because it was on that day, November the 8th, that God declared that the people, not the pollsters, were going to choose the next President of the United States.  And they chose Donald Trump” (more wild applause).  I think November 8, 2016 just became part of the Christian calendar at First Baptist Church–Dallas.
  • Jeffress reminds us that 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump.  He says they “understood that [Trump] alone had the leadership skills necessary to reverse the downward death spiral our nation was in” (wild applause). Jeffress claims that people are more excited now about Trump than they were on election day because Trump “has exceeded our every expectation.” OK.  Those expectations must be pretty low. (By the way, I am still waiting for Jeffress and the other Court Evangelicals to condemn the Morning Joe tweets).
  • Jeffress claims that Trump has done more to protect religious liberty than any POTUS in U.S. history. Really?  More than Jefferson?  More than Madison?
  • Jeffress says that “millions of Americans believe that the election of President Trump represented God giving us another chance, perhaps our last chance, to truly make America Great Again.”  Apparently God wants to give us another chance to return to the 1950s or the 1980s.

Trump’s speeches to evangelicals are always the same.  They are getting old. I am pretty sure his speech writers have exhausted everything they know about evangelicals. But why should they think more deeply about faith and public life when they can just have Trump throw out catchphrases and talking points about religious liberty or “the wall” or ISIS and have the crowd go wild.

Trump railed against the fake media and gets rousing cheers from an audience that I assume was made up of parishioners of First Baptist Church in Dallas.  I am inclined to give this cheering a pass because it is not occurring on a Sunday morning in a church sanctuary, but it is still disturbing to watch my fellow evangelical Christians put their hope in a strongman and do so with such zeal.  For example, when Trump says that “in America we do not worship government, we worship God,” the audience starts chanting “USA, USA, USA.” Something is wrong when a reference to the worship of God triggers nationalist chants.

A few final points:

Someone needs to tell Trump’s speechwriter that there was no public prayer at the Constitutional Convention.  Ben Franklin suggested it, but it did not happen.

And let’s also remember that his Executive Order on the Johnson Amendment accomplished nothing.  The Johnson Amendment is still in the tax code.  It can only be changed by Congress.

I remain part of the #19percent!

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Writer: “The Gospel According to Trump”

Trump in Ames

Here is Tony Norman at The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reflecting on some of the same things we discussed earlier this morning in our “19-Percent” post.

Donald Trump learned a long time ago that he can get away with saying demonstrably false things to his core supporters with little fear of paying a price. As the cliche goes, his people take him seriously — not literally. He may be a liar, but he’s their liar. Even if his lies flatter them at the expense of reality, what’s the big deal?

I was never one of those people who gave any credence to the theory that we’re all living in a computer simulation that mimics what we used to think of as the “real world” — until recently.

In the universe that I come from, Christians would rather have been fed to the lions than to have been allied with a vulgarian like Donald Trump. In this simulated universe, the American faction of Christianity appears to worship a Jesus that has contempt for the poor, hates refugees and embraces militarism. Here, Jesus blesses wealth and power and those who seek it relentlessly.

In the universe I originally came from, evangelicals would’ve gone nuts at the sight of Donald Trump and several Arab despots meeting in Saudi Arabia a few weeks ago putting their hands on a mystical orb in a darkened room as if sealing an antiChrist-level deal to divvy up the world.

In this universe, as long as Mr. Trump gives proper lip service to Christianity and appoints the right kind of judge to the Supreme Court, the president’s son-in-law can own a building in New York City with the ominous address 666 Fifth Avenue and not generate a single nervous giggle.

In this universe, Christians are the opposite of the weak and sentimental fools Friedrich Nietzsche complained about. Here, Nietzsche’s “will to power” is exemplified by America’s dominant religion. The beatitudes have been turned upside down and inside out to accommodate the new American spirit — the gospel according to Donald Trump.

While one man testified on Capitol Hill to the truth of how the president operates in excruciating details at times, the president wrapped himself in a blanket of righteousness and ignored him. He told lies and luxuriated in the applause of the righteous. In this universe, Jesus spits. He doesn’t weep.

Read the entire piece here.