Early court evangelical reaction to last night’s debate

There was nothing in last night’s debate about abortion, religious liberty, or Israel. One might think that this was a perfect opportunity, with Christian Right issues off the table for the evening, for evangelical Christians to decry Trump’s inability to abide by the rules, his constant lies, his refusal to say he would accept election results, and his failure to condemn racism and white supremacy. One might think evangelicals would be disgusted by all of this and, as those who supposedly care about ethical leadership and the moral fabric of country, condemn what they saw.

That, of course, did not happen.

Much of this is from last night:

But Tony Perkins, do YOU believe that both candidates are “fatally flawed?”

Tony is also peddling the voter fraud conspiracy:

I thought Biden missed an opportunity to talk about his support of the police. Perkins is right to point this out:

Now even a Fox News moderator is unacceptable to the court evangelicals. When you’re in trouble, blame the moderator:

Blaming the refs:

I thought Wallace was weak, but for a different reason. He didn’t tell Trump to shut up enough when he was speaking out of turn.

Ralph Reed tweeted once during debate. He chose to focus on the Biden family:

I think Charlie Kirk was watching a different debate last night:

More to come, if I have the stomach for it! 🙂

We deserved last night’s debate. We didn’t deserve last night’s debate.

Last night the nation got the debate it deserved.

Last night a nation suffering through coronavirus deserved better.

I think both of these things can be true at the same time.

The first 2020 presidential debate was a disaster. It was a perfect representation of the current state of our political culture. I think theologian Keith Plummer got it right when he tweeted:

Biden’s performance wasn’t great, but he hung in there. Historian Amy Bass nailed it:

Biden didn’t need to kill it last night. He is leading in all the polls. Trump did nothing to widen his base. The debate changed very little.

At one point in the debate Biden told Trump: “You’re the worst president America has ever had.” We will let future historians decide this, but right now it is hard to argue with Biden’s assessment. Here is presidential historian Jon Meacham:

As most of you know by now, Trump refused to condemn “white supremacy” and “racists”:

Here is Christian writer and editor Katelyn Beaty:

And then Trump empowered a neo-Fascist group by telling them to “stand back and stand by.” It is worth noting that the Proud Boys immediately made “Stand Back. Stand By” part of their new logo. Yes the President of the United States told a white supremacist militia group to “stand by.” This implies they he may need them at some point in the immediate future.

Actually, this whole Proud Boys thing sets me up nicely for my Pennsylvania history class today:

This may have been the first presidential debate in American history in which one candidate called another candidate a “racist.”

Trump did nothing to win women voters tonight. Here is historian Heather Cox Richardson:

A few odds and ends:

  1. Trump refused to say that he would concede the election if he loses.
  2. Trump interrupted Biden to attack his son Hunter at the precise moment Biden was talking about his dead son Beau.
  3. In the middle of a discussion on COVID-19, Trump attacked Biden’s intelligence. He also mocked Biden for attending “Delaware State” university. Actually, Biden attended the University of Delaware. Delaware State is a historical black university. One would think Trump would know this since he likes to brag how much he has done for HBCUs.
  4. I don’t want to see another debate. This was a waste of time. Let’s just vote in November and move on as a nation.

A few random tweets from the night:

Before the debate court evangelical Robert Jeffress was praying for unity:

I support national unity. I even support praying for national unity. One of the best speeches on national unity was Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

Here’s Sean Hannity being Sean Hannity:

CNN commentators saw things differently:

Is this King George or Vladimir Putin?:

Even the Fox News moderator Chris Wallace was having problems making sense of Trump’s words:

I am hearing all kinds of stories about parents letting their kids watch this debacle. Here is Yahoo News writer Jon Ward:

Here is Amy Bass:

Hey, but at least Donald Trump did this:

34 more days.

What does Donald Trump really think about the court evangelicals?

Earlier this month we did a post about Trump allegedly calling evangelical beliefs “bulls–t.” Many court evangelicals rejected this story because it came from former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, a convicted criminal.

But now, thanks to the reporting of McKay Coppins at The Atlantic, we know that Cohen is not the only one who claims that Trump mocks evangelicals and their beliefs. Here is a taste of his recent piece:

The conservative Christian elites Trump surrounds himself with have always been more clear-eyed about his lack of religiosity than they’ve publicly let on. In a September 2016 meeting with about a dozen influential figures on the religious right—including the talk-radio host Eric Metaxas, the Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, and the theologian Wayne Grudem—the then-candidate was blunt about his relationship to Christianity. In a recording of the meeting obtained by The Atlantic, the candidate can be heard shrugging off his scriptural ignorance (“I don’t know the Bible as well as some of the other people”) and joking about his inexperience with prayer (“The first time I met [Mike Pence], he said, ‘Will you bow your head and pray?’ and I said, ‘Excuse me?’ I’m not used to it.”) At one point in the meeting, Trump interrupted a discussion about religious freedom to complain about Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska and brag about the taunting nickname he’d devised for him. “I call him Little Ben Sasse,” Trump said. “I have to do it, I’m sorry. That’s when my religion always deserts me.”

And yet, by the end of the meeting—much of which was spent discussing the urgency of preventing trans women from using women’s restrooms—the candidate had the group eating out of his hand. “I’m not voting for Trump to be the teacher of my third grader’s Sunday-school class. That’s not what he’s running for,” Jeffress said in the meeting, adding, “I believe it is imperative … that we do everything we can to turn people out.”

The Faustian nature of the religious right’s bargain with Trump has not always been quite so apparent to rank-and-file believers. According to the Pew Research Center, white evangelicals are more than twice as likely as the average American to say that the president is a religious man. Some conservative pastors have described him as a “baby Christian,” and insist that he’s accepted Jesus Christ as his savior.

To those who have known and worked with Trump closely, the notion that he might have a secret spiritual side is laughable. “I always assumed he was an atheist,” Barbara Res, a former executive at the Trump Organization, told me. “He’s not a religious guy,” A. J. Delgado, who worked on his 2016 campaign, told me. “Whenever I see a picture of him standing in a group of pastors, all of their hands on him, I see a thought bubble [with] the words ‘What suckers,’” Mary Trump, the president’s niece, told me.

Greg Thornbury, a former president of the evangelical King’s College, who was courted by the campaign in 2016, told me that even those who acknowledge Trump’s lack of personal piety are convinced that he holds their faith in high esteem. “I don’t think for a moment that they would believe he’s cynical about them,” Thornbury said.

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelicals refuse to learn from history. As I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, this is not the first time evangelicals got played by politicians in this way. Richard Nixon used Billy Graham. Ronald Reagan used Jerry Falwell Sr., Cal Thomas, and Ed Dobson. George W. Bush (or more accurately, Karl Rove) used the late David Kuo.

Today, the court evangelicals are empowering a narcissist, pathological liar, power-hungry wanna-be-tyrant who has probably done more harm to this country than any other American president. Yes, they got their Supreme Court justices and their Jerusalem embassy, but history will hold them accountable for their complicity. By November 3 they may very well be the only ones still clinging to this corrupt leader.

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.

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.

Trump doubles down on the racism, nativism, and unhealthy nostalgia in Pittsburgh

Watch Trump on September 22, 2020 in the Pittsburgh area:

Trump is talking about Ilhan Omar, a Black Muslim congresswoman who represents Minnesota’s 5th congressional district. She won nearly 78% of the vote in her district in 2018.

Trump is playing both a racist and nativist card here. “She’s telling us how to run our country,” Trump says. Who is “us?” What does Trump mean by “our country?” He then makes a remark about “where she came from.” For the record, Omar is was born in Somalia and has lived in the United States twenty-five years. She has been a United States citizen for twenty years. Who is the divisive one here?

But Trump doesn’t stop there. After saying that Omar is destroying our country, he then illustrates perfectly the close connection between “Make America Great Again” and racism. Trump says: “From ten years ago it’s like a different world and we want to keep our world the way it was.” It is as if the racial unrest plaguing American cities this summer never happened. In the context of his previous comments on Omar, this is blatant racism.

And then there are the Trump followers cheering all of this.

The kind of nostalgia Trump is peddling here can be a powerful political tool. A politician who claims to have the power to take people back to a time when America as “great” stands a good chance of winning the votes of fearful men and women.

The practice of nostalgia is inherently selfish because it usually focuses on one own’s experience of the past and not the experience of others. For example, people nostalgic for the world of Leave it to Beaver may fail to recognize that other people, perhaps even some of the people living in the Cleaver’s suburban “paradise” of the 1950s, were not experiencing the world in a way that they would describe as “great.” This kind of nostalgia gives us tunnel vision. Its selective use of the past fails to recognize the complexity and breadth of the human experience–the good and bad of American history.

The court evangelicals get another chance to execute their political playbook

For many American evangelicals, Christian witness in the political sphere comes down to overturning Roe v. Wade. This is why the court evangelicals are so gleeful about Trump getting another Supreme Court nomination. This is also why they say virtually nothing about the president’s mishandling of COVID-19 (nearly 200,000 dead), his separation of families at the Mexican border, his environmental policies that will one day make the planet incapable of sustaining life, and his racism. Look for yourself. The silence is deafening. Start your research with these names:

Franklin Graham, James Robison, James Dobson, Jenetzen Franklin, Jack Graham, Paula White, Greg Laurie, John Hagee, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, Johnnie Moore, Ralph Reed, Robert Jeffress, Eric Metaxas, Jim Garlow, Jack Hibbs, Harry Jackson Jr., Luke Barnett, Richard Land, Jim Bakker, David Barton, Steve Strang, Samuel Rodriguez, Charlie Kirk, Lance Wallnau, and Jenna Ellis.

I imagine (again, I only imagine) that some of these people were on a conference call the moment Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. They no doubt started the session with prayer for the Ginsburg’s family and perhaps even threw-out a prayer or two for those suffering through COVID-19. And then, when the pleasantries were done, they got down to strategizing about how to best support the president’s forthcoming Supreme Court nomination and the most effective ways of spinning their 2016 claims that President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee–Merrick Garland–did not deserve a hearing in the Senate because it was an election year.

As I wrote yesterday, Robert Jeffress said that COVID-19 is mere “background noise” now that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead and Trump can appoint another conservative justice. Background noise? Tell that to the families who lost lives from COVID. What kind of world do we live in where a Christian pastor can say that the loss of 200,000 lives is unimportant and get virtually no push-back from his followers, all men and women who name the name of Jesus Christ?

Here is what the court evangelicals have been saying about the Supreme Court story:

Let’s start with Franklin Graham. Let’s remember that Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland about eight months before the 2016 election:

And now Graham says the country is at a “boiling point” and needs prayer. He has no clue that he is partly responsible for the divisions in the nation and the church.

Southern Baptist seminary president Al Mohler tries to defend Mitch McConnell’s decision to reject Merrick Garland’s nomination in 2016. There is no reference to the Constitution or its interpretation. Mohler’s argument is weak, especially coming from a self-professed Constitutional originalist. I would like to see him defend this argument through a close reading of the Constitution as opposed to the weak reference to 1880 that he offers here. Mohler, who prides himself as an intellectual driven by logic, begins with the assumption that we need another conservative justice and then searches for an argument–any argument–to justify his political desires.

There is no doubt that President Trump will make a nomination to fill the vacancy, and there is now no doubt, thanks to a statement released by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that the Senate will move forward on a confirmation process once the nomination is announced. Indeed, Senator McConnell stated, “In the last midterm election, before Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame duck president’s second term. We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year. By contrast, Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018, because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary. Once again, we will keep our promise. President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

Ecclesiastes 10:1. Interesting choice of verse by Tony Perkins:

Here is Gary Bauer. It’s all about the Christian Right playbook. He actually believes that overturning Roe v. Wade will end abortion in the United States. As long as he keeps sticking to this playbook, the lives of unborn babies will remain a political football.

Hey Ralph Reed, why weren’t you making this argument in 2016?

Charlie Kirk of the Falkirk Center at Liberty University does not even want hearings for Trump’s new justice:

Kirk criticizes Ilhan Omar for being a “starter of fires” fueled by religion and skin color. Hmm…

For many evangelicals the 2020 election represents a simple choice: Trump will defend the pro-life movement, Joe Biden is pro-choice; Trump promises to appoint Supreme Court justices who will challenge–perhaps even overturn —Roe v. Wade, and Joe Biden will not. When it comes to dealing with the problem of abortion, the court evangelicals have been reading from the same political playbook for more than four decades. It teaches them that the best way to bring an end to abortion in America is to elect the right president, who, in turn, will support the right justices. Thus far, things seem to be going well: not only has Trump appointed pro-life justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanuagh, but he has appointed dozens of conservative judges to federal district courts across the country. Now, he will most likely get to appoint another conservative justice.

Still, it is not exactly clear how this strategy will bring an end to abortion in America. Chief Justice John Roberts, himself a devout Catholic, has called Roe v. Wade “settled as the law of the land.” Amy Coney Barrett, who appears to be Trump’s top pick to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has said publicly that it is likely Roe v. Wade will not be overturned.

And even if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court, the issue will be sent back to the states. Abortion is very likely to remain legal in the so-called blue states, including California and New York, and illegal in many of the so-called red states, especially in the deep South.

State legislatures will need to decide how they will handle the abortion issue in the remaining states, but a significant number of them will probably allow abortion in some form. To put it simply, overturning Roe v. Wade will not end abortion in America. It may curtail the number of abortions, but it will bring our culture no closer to welcoming the children who are born and supporting their mothers.

The taking of a human life in the womb via the practice of abortion is a horrific practice. Modern technology shows us that a baby in the womb, especially in the last trimester, is alive. Christians should be working hard to reduce the number of abortions that take place in the United States–even working to eliminate the practice entirely.

But we have been under Roe v. Wade for long enough that several generations of Americans now believe that they have a right to an abortion. Such a belief is not going to change anytime soon. Conservative evangelicals and other pro-life advocates spend billions of dollars to get the right candidates elected because they believe that the Supreme Court is the only way to solve the problem of abortion in our society. Yet, most of these conservatives oppose “big government” and want to address social concerns through churches and other institutions of civil society. Imagine if all the money spent to support pro-life candidates was poured into these institutions.

How did we get to this place. Learn more here:

The Trump campaign sends Eric out to win the evangelical vote

Earlier this year the Trump campaign launched “Evangelicals for Trump.” I wrote about the January launch in a piece at USA Today. Since “Evangelicals for Trump” launched in Miami we have not heard much about this initiative. But if you look closely enough you can find “Evangelicals for Trump” rallies throughout the United States. And the president’s youngest son Eric Trump is usually the keynote speaker.

On Wednesday, Eric will speak at an event titled “Evangelicals for Trump: Praise, Power, Prayer, and Patriotism” at Dream City Church in Glendale, Arizona. Court evangelical Luke Barnett is the pastor of this church.

On September 15, Eric was in Cumming, Georgia with Governor Eric Kemp, Alveda King, Paula White, Jenetzen Franklin, and other court evangelicals. There is video of this event: Watch:

Notice very few of the evangelicals in the crowd are wearing masks and their is no social distancing. Eric claims that his father was chosen by God in 2016 and now God is protecting him from the Democrats and the socialists. He also suggests that Biden is mentally unstable. Listen to the evangelicals cheer this character attack.

On September 3rd , Eric was at City Church in Huntersville, North Carolina with Paula White and her husband, former Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain.

Expect to see Eric doing more of these events. The fact that the campaign is sending him to connect with evangelicals tells us a lot about the Trump-evangelical alliance. Eric stands before these evangelical crowds and utters pro-Trump political talking points and the evangelicals cheer as if he is somehow articulating the tenets of biblical faith.

Who’s afraid of critical race theory?

Donald Trump has turned Critical Race Theory (CRT) into a campaign issue in the hopes of winning white evangelicals and other conservatives who fear that an academic theory that they know little about is somehow threatening American democracy. Between his attacks on CRT and the 1619 Project, he just might win back a few 2016 voters who were contemplating pulling the lever for Biden or another candidate in November.

On Friday night, September 4, 2020, Russell Vought, the director of the president’s Office of Management and Budget, released a memo demanding that the Executive Branch stop teaching CRT as part of required “training” sessions for federal employees.

Vought’s memo condemns seminars that expose employees to the idea that “virtually all White people contribute to racism” or “benefit from racism.” All programs that include discussions of “white privilege” or the notion that the United States is an “inherently racist or evil country,” the memo states, must immediately “cease and desist.”

Trump may have learned about CRT from a segment on Fox News. On September 2, 2020, Fox host Tucker Carlson interviewed Chris Rufo, a fellow at the Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think tank best known for its advocacy of the “intelligent design” view of creation. After studying CRT for six months, Rufo concluded the theory has become the “default ideology of the federal bureaucracy” and is being “weaponized against the American people.” He described CRT as “a cult indoctrination” and demanded that Trump bring an end to it immediately. The president was apparently listening.

So what should we make of CRT? Like all academic theories, we ought to engage it thoughtfully. Critical race theory is one way of helping us come to grips with the fact that some groups in society oppress other groups based on the color of their skin.

In their helpful introduction to CRT, scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Sefancic identify five major themes of this theory.

First, CRT affirms that racism is an “ordinary” or “common” part of everyday life. In other words, racism is more than just individual acts of prejudice against people of color, it is a system of discrimination built into American institutions, especially the law.

Second, CRT affirms that since White people benefit from such systemic racism, they will not have the incentive to do anything about it. Shock events such as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis or the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha might alert White people to racial injustice, but it is unlikely such tragedies will lead to a sustained anti-racism.

Third, CRT affirms that race is “socially constructed.” This means that the racial categories we use are not biologically determined but invented by human beings. There is nothing inherent about any race that should lead to its oppression. Racism is thus best explained by a close examination of American history to see how men and women in power “constructed” the idea of racial difference and promoted bigotry based on those differences.

Fourth, CRT affirms, to quote Delgado and Sefancic, that “no person has a single, easily stated, unitary identity.” For example, I am a male, white, a product of the American working class, and a Christian. These different identities are often mutually dependent on one another and when taken together make me a whole person. CRT uses the technical term “intersectionality” to define the way these different identities overlap and intersect.

Fifth, CRT affirms that Black people and other people of color “are able to communicate to their White counterparts matters that whites are unlikely to know.” At the heart of CRT is storytelling. This is the primary way that people of color can explain the racism that they encounter daily. It also implies that people of color are more equipped to talk about the plight of the racially oppressed than White people.

Critical race theorists are often suspicious of liberalism, both the Left and Right variety. As a product of the Western intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment, liberals champion universals—the things that we hold in common as human beings regardless of race. CRT celebrates what makes human beings unique and different. The appeal to the universal values of the Enlightenment, its adherents argue, always favors the White people who have defined and benefited from those values.

Much of CRT sounds a lot like some of the things I learned in college, seminary, and graduate school. Back then we studied these things under the rubric of “American history” and “Christianity.”

For example, I don’t remember reading anything about CRT while working toward my Ph.D in American history. But I did not need these high-falutin academic theorists to see how racism was embedded in the history of the republic. All I needed to do was study the documentary record with my eyes open. One cannot ignore the long history of White people oppressing Black people. White people have had advantages–privileges even–that Black people and other people of color have not. To acknowledge white privilege is to be a good historian.

It is also difficult to study American history and not see continuity between the past and present. The legacies of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, lynching, and white supremacy are still with us just like the founding fathers’ ideas of liberty, freedom, and individual rights are still with us. Indeed, racism is “ordinary” and “common” in American life. It is not some kind of aberration practiced by a few “bad apples” who make occasional appearances in the narratives we teach about the past.

A few weeks ago I was teaching the students in my U.S. history survey course about seventeenth-century Virginia. This colonial society passed laws that defined Black men and women as slaves for the purpose of quelling disgruntled poor whites (former indentured servants) who had a propensity for social and political rebellion. The codification of race-based slavery in Virginia law resulted in the social, economic, and political advance of these marginalized White colonials.

Were there individual acts of racism in colonial Virginia? Of course. But what the Virginia government did was systemic–its leaders embedded racism in the culture of the settlement. While this is an early example of systemic racism, we can point to many other instances in American history where White people were able to achieve something called the “American Dream” on the backs of slavery and other oppressed and marginalized people.

Trump’s decision to root-out CRT will inevitably win him points with his Fox-News-watching Christian conservative base, but is CRT something Christians should fear?

As an undergraduate and seminary student at evangelical institutions, I learned that Christians should not be surprised by injustice and evil in this world. Rather, we should expect it. The world is a fallen and broken place. My professors drilled this into my head through a reading and re-reading (occasionally in the original Hebrew language) of Genesis 3. Sin manifests itself in both individual lives and cultural systems.

Since Christians believe in human sin, we should have no problem embracing CRT’s affirmation of systemic racism. At the same time, we should always be ready to offer hope–rooted in Christ’s atoning work on the cross and the promise of resurrection—as a means of healing a world that is broken. We may never overcome the damage of systemic racism on this side of eternity, but we cannot ignore our call to be agents of reconciliation.

Is it true that White people have no incentive to do anything about racial injustice because they benefit from it? American history certainly bears this out. The story of our nation is filled with White men and women who witnessed racism on a regular basis and did nothing to stop it. Some of them knew it was wrong but lacked the courage to do anything about it. Others simply did not care.

Christian critics of CRT celebrate abolitionists such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Wilberforce, or William Lloyd Garrison, but these courageous activists were the exceptions to the rule in 19th-century America. The “heroic man” or “heroic woman” view of the history of moral reform does not account for the long record of White Christian complacency on racial injustice. In the end, any Christian who takes a deep dive into the American past will find heroes to emulate, but they will also find that most White people were complicit in sustaining a system of white supremacy.

What about the social construction of race? When Thomas Jefferson said in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1781) that Africans were “inferior to whites in the endowments both of body and mind,” he was degrading the human dignity of Black people, men and women created by God in His image. Racism entered the world when sinful human beings forged communities that privileged some and excluded others.

Christians can also agree, to an extent, with the idea of intersectionality. We all possess different social identities and there are times when we face injustice that stems from those identities—injustices that our legal system fails to address.

Our urge to downplay the identities that define us as human beings is understandable and, in many cases, good. A flourishing society will always be built upon the things we hold common as human beings. A thriving Church will always be built upon the knowledge that one day White Christians and Christians of color will share together in the new heavens and new earth promised in the Book of Revelation. A central message of the Book of Acts and Pauline epistles is summed-up best in Galatians 3:38: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you all one in Christ.”

But God has also made us different. We are products of history. Our faith will always be understood and navigated through the circumstances that have shaped us and provided us with multiple identities in this world. While we all want to be one in Christ, and should always be about the work of reconciliation and unity as Jesus reminded us in John 17, we must also remember, as theologian Miroslav Volf writes, that God notes not only our “common humanity,” but also our “specific histories.”

Finally, CRT’s emphasis on storytelling is something Christians should value. The Christian tradition is full of men and women telling stories of suffering, sin, and redemption. When Black people tell their stories of encounters with racism it should provoke empathy in the hearts of White Christians. We understand the power of testimony.

Of course, stories can be manipulated for selfish or political ends. And personal experience does not always translate to expertise on a subject such as African American history or literature. But those who dwell on these matters miss an opportunity to cultivate a more just democracy through compassion and understanding. It is time to exercise some humility. This means we need to stop talking and start listening to the stories African Americans are telling us.

In the end, if critical race theorists can teach me something I don’t know about how I may have benefited from white oppression (even if I may not commit overt acts of racism) or how to have greater solidarity with my black brothers and sisters, why wouldn’t I want to consider it?

As a Christian, I want to see the world through the eyes of my faith. I want my “theory” to be the teachings of the scriptures and the Christian tradition. This may mean that I embrace parts of CRT and reject other parts. I know very few academics—Christian or secular—who adopt theories in toto.

There is much truth in CRT, and all truth is God’s truth. We have nothing to fear.

Trump’s Supreme Court appointee should get a hearing and a vote

Article II of the United States Constitution states that the President:

…shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

The President nominates Supreme Court justices and the Senate advises and consents. That’s how it works.

When Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, Barack Obama did his constitutional duty and nominated Merrick Garland to replace Scalia. The Senate, under the leadership of Mitch McConnell, refused to give Garland a hearing. He said that it was inappropriate for Obama to nominate a new justice in an election year. The next Supreme Court nomination, McConnell argued, should thus be left up to the new President. Trump won the November election and appointed Neil Gorsuch.

We are now 43 days away from an election and the recent death of justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has reignited the same debate about the right of a president to appoint a new justice during an election year. The Republicans in all their hypocrisy are now demanding that Trump should appoint Ginsburg’s successor. Here is Lindsey Graham, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, 2016:

Graham is now suggesting that Trump should get to pick the next justice.

Of course this should not surprise us. Politics is not about integrity, ethics, or standing by one’s word. It is about power. And let’s not pretend that the Democrats wouldn’t do the same thing if they were in the GOP’s shoes right now. Plague on all their houses!

Two wrongs do not make a right. McConnell was wrong in 2016. Merrick Garland should have received a hearing and an up or down vote. In 2020, Trump’s appointee should receive a hearing and get an up or down vote. If the Senators believe that it is in the best interest of the country to let the next president choose a justice, then they can vote accordingly.

In March 2016, I wrote a Fox News piece on the whole Garland mess while I was in residence at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Read it here.

Zakaria: “Prepare for election month, not election night”

Great stuff here. Fareed Zakaria writes about possible scenarios that might take place on election night. It may also all come down to John Roberts. Here is a taste of his Washington Post column:

All of us need to start preparing for a deeply worrying scenario on Nov. 3. It is not some outlandish fantasy, but rather the most likely course of events based on what we know today. On election night, President Trump will be ahead significantly in a majority of states, including in the swing states that will decide the outcome. Over the next few days, mail-in ballots will be counted, and the numbers could shift in Joe Biden’s favor. But will Trump accept that outcome? Will the United States?

First, an explanation of why this is the most likely situation. Several surveys have found that, because of the pandemic, in-person and mail-in ballots will show a huge partisan divide. In one poll, 87 percent of Trump voters said they preferred to vote in person, compared with 47 percent of Biden voters. In another, by the Democratic data firm Hawkfish, 69 percent of Biden voters said they planned to vote by mail, while only 19 percent of Trump voters said the same. The firm modeled various scenarios and found that, based on recent polling, if just 15 percent of mail-in ballots are counted on election night, Trump would appear to have 408 electoral votes compared with Biden’s 130. But four days later, assuming 75 percent of the mail-in ballots are counted, the lead could flip to Biden, and after all ballots are counted, Biden would have 334 electoral votes to Trump’s 204.

And this:

Is there a way out of this national nightmare? Two powerful forces could ensure that the United States, already tarnished by its handling of covid-19, does not also end up as the poster child for dysfunctional democracy. The first is the media. We have to abandon the notion of election night and prepare the public for election month. In fact, states have never certified winners on election night. News organizations do that on the basis of statistical projections. It is time to educate the public to wait for the ballots to be counted.

The second and decisive force will be Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. If this type of scenario unfolds, it will end up in court. Ordinarily, this would not get to the Supreme Court. The Constitution is crystal clear that it is the states, and the states alone, that get to determine their electors. But the Supreme Court abandoned its restraint in 2000 with Bush v. Gore. That means a disputed election could quickly move up to the Supreme Court, where Roberts would be pivotal as both chief justice and the swing vote. So it might come down to this: One man will have the power to end a looming catastrophe and save American democracy.

Read the rest here.

John Brown University students protest visit from court evangelical Eric Metaxas

John Brown University is an evangelical college in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Back in October 2018, I visited the university on the Believe Me book tour and was greatly impressed by the quality of the students and faculty.

On Tuesday, September 8, 2020, John Brown hosted an event titled “Should Christians Vote for Trump?” The evening featured a debate between conservative writer David French and court evangelical extraordinaire Eric Metaxas. This was a repeat performance of a debate that took place in April at the “Q” conference.

Here is Maria Aguilar at The Threefold Advocate, the John Brown University student newspaper:

In response to Metaxas’ involvement in the event, a group of students decided to form “Love Activates Action,” a university movement which advocates for marginalized students on campus, according to its Instagram profile, @love_activates_action.

Before the event began, students gathered with signs outside the BPAC that expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement and the LGBTQIA+ pride. Attendees who arrived at the recital hall could read their signs laid on the grass next to the sidewalk.

According to a statement released by Love Activates Action, student protesters aimed to “create awareness surrounding the harmful, toxic effects Eric Metaxas can have on our student body.” At the scene, students—some of whom expressed support for Metaxas—also gathered to share their views and engage in discussion with the group.

A few minutes after the event wrapped up, student protesters held their signs high for Metaxas to see as he walked out of the building. A couple of students even requested answers from Metaxas, but he did not comment.

On Sept. 1, a week prior to the event, the Center for Faith and Flourishing addressed students’ concerns with Metaxas’ invitation to campus. “JBU knows how to respectfully and reasonably engage with those with whom we disagree. We also trust that no one in our community will use the past statements or behavior of an invited speaker as an excuse to harass or act offensively toward any other member of our community,” the emailed statement read. “Verbally aggressive or violent approaches are not in keeping with principles of civil dialogue or engagement, nor are they consistent with JBU’s core guiding principles to support and care for individual uniqueness.”

Read the rest here.

Catherine Nolte’s reporting on the the event includes a reference to Metaxas’s defense of a punch he recently threw at an anti-Trump protester.

Trump and critical race theory: What is really going on?

In case you missed it, Donald Trump discovered critical race theory over the weekend. Here is Friday’s memo from Russell Vought, the director of the president’s Office of Management and Budget:

September 4, 2020

M-20-34

MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

FROM: Russell Vought
Director

SUBJECT: Training in the Federal Government

It has come to the President’s attention that Executive Branch agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to date “training” government workers to believe divisive, antiAmerican propaganda.

For example, according to press reports, employees across the Executive Branch have been required to attend trainings where they are told that “virtually all White people contribute to racism” or where they are required to say that they “benefit from racism.” According to press reports, in some cases these training have further claimed that there is racism embedded in the belief that America is the land of opportunity or the belief that the most qualified person should receive a job.

These types of “trainings” not only run counter to the fundamental beliefs for which our Nation has stood since its inception, but they also engender division and resentment within the Federal workforce. We can be proud that as an employer, the Federal government has employees of all races, ethnicities, and religions. We can be proud that Americans from all over
the country seek to join our workforce and dedicate themselves to public service. We can be proud of our continued efforts to welcome all individuals who seek to serve their fellow Americans as Federal employees. However, we cannot accept our employees receiving training
that seeks to undercut our core values as Americans and drive division within our workforce.

The President has directed me to ensure that Federal agencies cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions. Accordingly, to that end, the Office of Management and Budget will shortly issue more detailed guidance on implementing the President’s directive. In the meantime, all agencies are directed to begin to identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on “critical race theory,” “white privilege,” or any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either (1) that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil. In addition, all agencies should begin to identify all available avenues within the law to cancel any such contracts and/or to divert Federal dollars away from these unAmerican propaganda training sessions.

The President, and his Administration, are fully committed to the fair and equal treatment of all individuals in the United States. The President has a proven track record of standing for those whose voice has long been ignored and who have failed to benefit from all our country has to offer, and he intends to continue to support all Americans, regardless of race, religion, or creed. The divisive, false, and demeaning propaganda of the critical race theory movement is contrary to all we stand for as Americans and should have no place in the Federal government.

Trump has been tweeting about this:

And here are a few of Trump’s retweets this weekend:

So what is happening here?

What is critical race theory? You can learn all about it here.

Critical race theorists believe that racism is a systemic problem in the United States. In other words, racism is more than just individual acts of prejudice executed by a “few bad apples,” but a system of injustice woven deeply into American culture.

I have read several stories on Trump’s attempt to ban critical race theory and it is still not clear to me exactly which federal training programs Trump is talking about here or how critical race theory is being taught in these programs. I think it is fair to say that Trump knows absolutely nothing about critical race theory apart from the fact that his political base is against it.

And what should we make of the fact that a memo from the Office of the President condemning a federal government training program cites “press reports” as its primary evidence? Trump’s seems to have learned about critical race theory from this segment of the Tucker Carlson Show on Fox News:

Chris Rufo, the guy who appears in this video, works for the Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think tank. You can read his other writings here. You can learn more about others connected to the Discovery Institute here.

So what should we make of critical race theory? Like all academic theories, we should engage it thoughtfully. Critical race theory is one way of helping us come to grips with the fact that some groups in society oppress other groups. In the United States, there has been a long history of White people oppressing Black people. As a result, White people have had advantages–privileges even–that Black people and other people of color have not.

It is hard to study American history and not see this oppression. It is also difficult to study American history and not see continuity between the past and present. The legacies of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, lynching, and white supremacy are still with us just like the founding fathers’ ideas of liberty and freedom and individual rights are still with us.

This past week I was teaching the students in my U.S. history survey course about seventeenth-century Virginia. This colonial society passed laws that made Black men and women slaves in an attempt to quell disgruntled poor whites who had shown a propensity for political rebellion. The codification of race-based slavery in Virginia law resulted in the social, economic, and political advance of the former white indentured servant population in Virginia.

Were there individual acts of racism in colonial Virginia? Of course. But what the Virginia government did was systemic–its leaders embedded racism in the culture of the settlement. While this is an early example of systemic racism, we can point to many other examples in American history where White people were able to achieve something called the “American Dream” on the backs of slavery and other oppressed and marginalized people.

I have a hunch that Rufo is a Christian. And I have no doubt that Trump’s decision to root out critical race theory will win him points with his evangelical base. So what should a Christian think about critical race theory?

Christians should expect injustice and oppression in this world. The world is fallen. We learn this from reading Genesis 3. Sin pervades this world and manifests itself in both individual transgression and cultural systems. We place our hope in Jesus Christ, a suffering savior whose death for our sins initiated a new kingdom–the Kingdom of God– that will one day reach its fulfillment in a new heavens and a new earth. God redeems our individual lives and will one day redeem His creation, which Romans 8 tells us is “groaning” with “labor pains” as it awaits redemption. Until Jesus returns, citizens of God’s Kingdom are called to live justice-filled lives. And those who care about justice will privilege standing with the poor and oppressed.

So if theologians like James Cone, critical race theorists, or American historians can help me better understand oppression, the ways I have benefited from such oppression (even if I don’t commit overt acts of racism), and teach me how to have greater solidarity with my black brothers and sisters, why wouldn’t I want to learn more about it?

As a Christian, I prefer to see the world through the eyes of my faith. In other words, I want my “theory” to be the teachings of the scriptures and the Christian tradition. This may mean that I embrace parts of critical race theory and reject other parts. This might also mean that I reject the way critical race theory is applied, especially when it leads to violence. But Christian’s shouldn’t be afraid of it.

If we want to use jargon that is common in today’s political climate, I think it is fair to say that Trump is “canceling” critical race theory. Trump and his followers want open discourse, debate, and the free exchange of ideas, but only with those ideas that they find agreeable. Critical race theory appears to have become a new kind of McCarthyism. How else should we interpret Trump’s call to “please report any sightings.”

Finally, let’s acknowledge what is really going on here.

First, Trump is trying to distract us from the fact that he called American soldiers “losers” and “suckers.”

Second, Trump is trying to scare Americans, especially his white evangelical base, into voting for him in November.

Third, by attacking a theory he knows nothing about, Trump continues to engage in the subtle (but premeditated) racism that has defined his entire presidency. We saw it in Charlottesville. We saw it in Kenosha. We saw it following the Floyd murder. And we see it whenever he talks about the suburbs.

Fourth, this whole incident shows us, once again, that we have an incompetent president who watches Fox News and then impulsively tweets policy proposals based on what he has seen.

When Trump loses a pro-life spokeswoman

Check out Dan Silliman’s piece at Christianity Today on how some pro-life activists are fleeing Donald Trump. Here is a taste:

A pro-life spokeswoman quit her job rather than endorse Donald Trump for another term in the White House.

Trump has called himself the most pro-life president in history. But Stephanie Ranade Krider, executive director for Ohio Right to Life, decided she couldn’t support him and couldn’t keep working for the prominent pro-life group as it prepared to help him win re-election.

She resigned June 30. The next morning, she woke up and felt like she could finally breathe again.

“You learn to hold certain things in tension, and for me it came to a point where I couldn’t anymore,” Krider said. “I’ve been grateful for the things Trump has accomplished and skeptical of his pro-life views.

“Always, there has been this undercurrent where he just does not respect women and he does not like black and brown people. I can’t look at any of his behavior and see evidence of the Holy Spirit in his life. Nothing about his words or actions are kind or gentle or faithful or full of self-control.”

It wasn’t an easy decision to quit. Krider started working at Ohio Right to Life in 2009. She can still remember how thrilled she was. As a 26-year-old evangelical with a passion for politics, she was ready to advocate for the unborn. She was ready to fight the people who could look at an ultrasound and say, “That’s just a blob of tissue.” She imagined herself bringing together pro-life Republicans and Democrats with bold moral arguments and how she would say, “Women deserve better than abortion.”

Read the rest here.

What Trump did in Kenosha

John Nichols, writing at The Nation, is on the mark:

Donald Trump and his partisan wrecking crew jetted into Kenosha Tuesday on a political mission. That was no secret. The president spelled everything out in his acceptance speech at last week’s Republican National Convention, when he refused to mention the name of Jacob Blake—the 29-year-old Black man who was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer—but instead made the Wisconsin city a touchstone for a “law-and-order” rant about “mayhem in Democrat-run cities” and his fall campaign theme that “No one will be safe in Biden’s America.”

If Trump did not put too fine a point on it, then veteran Trump aide Kellyanne Conway surely did when the departing White House staffer said on the night of Trump’s incendiary speech, “The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order.”

The strategy was laid out at the convention. And on Tuesday he implemented it with a trip to Kenosha that was low on sympathy and high on campaign rhetoric. He called the city’s Democratic mayor, John Antaramian, “very stupid” and claimed that he had seen a mob of “radical anarchists” trying to break into the mayor’s house—a lie that Antaramian quickly corrected, stating, “Nothing of the sort happened.” The president refused to answer questions about systemic racism, except to decry “reckless politicians [who] continue to push the destructive message that our nation and our law enforcement are oppressive or racist.”

Read the entire piece here.

What if Trump refuses to give up power?

Election of 1860

Clarkson University political scientist Alexander Cohen says that “American democracy will survive” if Trump decides to contest the election of 2020. He points to five previous contested elections: 1800, 1824, 1876, 1960, and 2000. In all five cases, democracy survived. But the contested election of 1860 was different. Here is a taste of Cohen’s piece at The Conversation:

The election of 1860 was a different story. 

After Abraham Lincoln defeated three other candidates, Southern states simply refused to accept the results. They viewed the selection of a president who would not protect slavery as illegitimate and ignored the election’s results.

It was only through the profoundly bloody Civil War that the United States remained intact. The dispute over the legitimacy of this election, based in fundamental differences between the North and South, cost 600,000 American lives.

What is the difference between the political collapse of 1860 and the continuity of other contested elections? In all cases, citizens were politically divided and elections were hotly contested.

What makes 1860 stand out so clearly is that the country was divided over the moral question of slavery, and this division followed geographic lines that enabled a revolution to form. Further, the Confederacy was reasonably unified across class lines.

While the America of today is certainly divided, the distribution of political beliefs is far more dispersed and complex than the ideological cohesion of the Confederacy.

Read the entire piece here.

If history is any indication, we will all make it through a potential Trump refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election. On the other hand, Americans have never seen a president quite like Trump. Stay tuned.