Thank You (Again) Bob Casey

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I am proud of my U.S. Senator.  Yesterday he broke with his party by voting for legislation that would ban almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.  He also broke with his party by voting for a bill that would impose criminal penalties on doctors who fail to aggressively treat babies born after abortions.  While I am on record saying that the overturning of Roe v. Wade is not the best way of reducing abortions in the United States,  I support both pieces of legislation.

The legislation failed, but pro-life Casey (D-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) both voted in support of the bill.  Doug Jones (D-AL) voted against the bill banning abortions after 20 weeks and in support of the bill protecting babies born alive.

Here is The New York Times:

The first bill, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” sponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, would ban nearly all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with limited exceptions. Rape victims, for instance, would be required to undergo counseling first. Proponents insist fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, citing their own review of scientific literature, and a recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics says “neuroscience cannot definitively rule out fetal pain before 24 weeks.” But medical experts who favor abortion rights say there is no evidence of that.

It fell seven votes short of the necessary 60, failing by a vote of 53 to 44. Two Republicans — Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski — crossed party lines to vote against it. Two Democrats — Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania — voted in favor.

The second, the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” sponsored by Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, would require doctors to “exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion.” Experts say such circumstances are extremely unusual, but the measure would apply to cases in which a baby is not viable outside the womb and doctors induce labor as a means of terminating a pregnancy. The bill would subject physicians to fines and prison time if they failed to comply.

That bill failed, 56 to 44, with Mr. Casey, Mr. Manchin and Mr. Jones joining all 53 Republicans to vote in favor. The three Democrats scheduled to participate in Tuesday night’s presidential debate in South Carolina — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — were absent for both votes.

Read the entire piece here.

Is the Old Frank(y) Schaeffer Back?

17ca2-frank_schaefferFrank Schaeffer, the son of mid-century evangelical public theologian Francis Schaeffer, worked very closely with his father, Jerry Falwell Sr, Pat Robertson, and others in the creation of the Christian Right. About thirty years ago, he turned his back on his father’s legacy and became a prominent voice on the religious left. Back in 2007, before I started The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I reviewed his memoir Crazy for God at the now dormant Religion in American History blog.

In Micah Danney‘s recent Newsweek profile, Schaeffer talks about abortion in a more nuanced way than he did in the 1970s and 1980s. But I still hear some echoes from the old days when he was producing films based on his father’s book Whatever Happened to the Human Race.

Here is a taste:

Sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Boston in November, Schaeffer skewered the religious conservative movement he once served. His politics are much more progressive across the board, he said. Yet on abortion, the issue so central to his father’s legacy and his own path through fame, fortune and influence, he is critical of the left.

His fellow progressives are overly simplistic about it, he said, and dangerously so. They underestimate the impact that Roe v. Wade had on those who disagree with it. That miscalculation has turned the impact into a shock wave that continues to drive seismic shifts in American politics, powering Republican politicians into positions they then use to legislate against just about every other cause important to Democrats.

“Essentially, [liberals] have not honestly dealt with the fact that they had upset an apple cart that has changed American history. They just want it to all go away,” Schaeffer said. “‘We’re not talking about it because it’s settled.’ Well, it was never settled, and the poll numbers show that it is still not settled because it’s not just a bunch of old farts who are on the pro-life side. You have a whole younger generation of people coming up who aren’t even supporters of the Republicans.”

Twenty-five years ago, 56 percent of Americans identified as pro-choice and 33 percent as pro-life, according to Gallup. As of May 2019, pro-choicers have declined to 46 percent and the pro-life movement claims 49 percent of the population.

Schaeffer calls himself pro-choice but anti-Roe v. Wade. Life does begin at conception, he said, at least biologically. He sees the Democratic Party’s stance as “slavish and dogmatic,” and painfully neglectful of sincere moral outrage that smolders unabated on the other side of the issue. He pointed out that the Supreme Court’s decision in 1973 followed the legalization of abortion in a number of European countries, but argues it went further than all of them. That amounted to an “in your face” insult, he said, and added to a deep moral injury felt by a huge number of Americans whose religious convictions are central to their lives.

“We’re going up to 23 weeks. We’re going to divide it into trimesters and say it’s all fine and this is just a blob of tissue,” Schaeffer said. Extending that logic so close to the moment of birth and putting it all under a mantra of choice was an invitation to righteous backlash, Schaeffer argued.

By discounting such a large segment of the population’s concerns about the morality of the act, liberal dogma around abortion violates the central Christian principle of integration, Schaeffer said.

“We pretend that half our population doesn’t exist, and we tell them to just deal with it,” he said.

Pro-choicers will never get pro-lifers to cross the bridge to their side, Schaeffer said. A healthier relationship overall could start with a more honest national conversation about abortion procedures, according to Schaeffer, as well as issues like the future of genomics. All of it, he said, has implications for how we regard life and how lives will be affected.

Read the entire piece here.

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

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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.

Bernie Sanders Seems to Reject the Very Idea of a Pro-Life Democrat

John Gehring, the Catholic Director of Faith in Public Life, recently shared this video on his Twitter feed:

And then Gehring tweeted:

And Pelosi:

A lot to think about here. I think Jimmy Carter is right.

Could Any of the Democratic Candidates Echo Trump’s Words on the Dignity of Human Life in the Womb?

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Bernie Sanders at Liberty University in September 2015

At the National March for Life, Donald Trump said

All of us here understand an eternal truth: Every child is a precious and sacred gift from God.  Together, we must protect, cherish, and defend the dignity and the sanctity of every human life…when we see the image of the baby in the womb, we glimpse the majesty of God’s creation…When we watch a child grow, we see the splendor that radiates from each human soul.  One life changes the world.

I have written several posts at this blog about Trump’s speech at the March for Life.  He has speech writers who know how to put the right words in his mouth at events like this.  I still believe that his appearance at the March for Life was harmful to the pro-life cause.

Do any of the Democratic candidates on the stage last night in Manchester, New Hampshire believe what Trump said in the above excerpt? And if they did agree with what Trump said about the dignity of human life, would they be willing to say something like this, regardless of their position on Roe v. Wade or a women’s right to choose, before a nationally televised audience?  Would they be willing to say that abortion is a moral problem?

Here is a taste of religion writer Terry Mattingly’s recent column:

While commentators stressed that Trump attended the march to please his conservative evangelical base, this massive event in Washington, D.C., draws a complex crowd that is hard to label. It includes, for example, Catholics and evangelicals from groups that have been critical of Trump’s personal life and ethics, as well as his stands on immigration, the death penalty and related issues.

Videos of this year’s march showed many signs praising the president, but also signs critical of his bruising brand of politics.

A Facebook post by a Catholic priest — Father Jeffrey Dauses of the Diocese of Baltimore — captured this tension. Telling pro-lifers to “wake up,” Dauses attacked what he called Trump’s “callous disregard for the poor, for immigrants and refugees, for women … This man is not pro-life. He is pro-himself.”

Meanwhile, Buttigieg — an openly gay Episcopalian — did something even more daring when he appeared at a Fox News town hall in Iowa. One of the toughest questions he faced came from the leader of a network of Democrats opposed to abortion.

“Do you want the support of pro-life Democrats?” asked Kristen Day, president of Democrats for Life. “Would you support more moderate platform language in the Democratic Party to ensure that the party of diversity and inclusion really does include everybody?”

Some previous platforms, she noted, affirmed that all Democrats were welcome — even if their beliefs clashed with the party’s pro-abortion-rights orthodoxy. Now, Day added, the “platform contains language that basically says that we don’t belong, we have no part in the party because it says abortion should be legal up to nine months.”

Buttigieg refused to compromise, even though he has repeatedly stressed his credentials as a moderate Democrat striving to woo #NeverTrump Republicans and religious believers who abandoned his party in 2016.

Read the entire piece here.

As I have argued, moderate Democratic candidates like Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar have a great chance of stealing evangelical votes from Trump in 2020, but they will need to change the way they talk about abortion.  Elizabeth Warren is a Methodist, a church that still upholds a pro-life position. But I don’t see her moving in this direction.

I once tried to get Bernie Sanders to budge on abortion. Here is what I wrote about him back in September 2015:

I watched Bernie Sanders’s speech in Columbia, South Carolina on a recent night. I thought it was great. The economic populist in me was cheering. When Sanders talks about income inequality he is hitting a nerve. Sanders may not win the nomination, but he will be around long enough to make life miserable for Hillary Clinton and the other Democratic candidates running for president of the United States.

Sanders, the progressive Vermont senator, will be speaking at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia on September 14. Liberty, the school founded by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, has long been a defender of conservative values. In the past it has not only championed Christian morality, but it has promoted free markets and limited government. Sanders may be the most progressive person who has ever spoken — if not set foot — on the Lynchburg campus.

I am glad that Sanders is coming to Liberty. The university deserves accolades for inviting him to speak. Our democracy only works when we stop the shouting matches and start listening to the views of those with whom we differ before we condemn them.

I don’t know what motivated Liberty University to invite Sanders. The cynical side of me says that the Liberty leadership wants him to speak so that they can point out the wrongness of his progressive views. I am sure Sanders’s visit will be discussed at length in Liberty classrooms, giving professors plenty of opportunities to debunk his ideas.

The hopeful side of me says that Liberty is trying to move beyond its reputation as a bastion of the Christian Right and is looking to find at least some common ground with those on the Left.

At the end of his speech in Columbia, Sanders did an interview with CSPAN. Scott Scully asked Sanders about his upcoming visit to Lynchburg. Sanders said that he hoped to find some common ground with Liberty on matters related to wealth inequality, childhood poverty and health care.

I hope the students, faculty and administrators at Liberty listen carefully to Sanders. Inequality, poverty and health care are moral issues. They are things that all Christians should be concerned about. Perhaps Sanders might inspire some of the Liberty faithful to extend their religious outreach to areas that have not historically been part of the Christian Right’s moral agenda.

But let me suggest another possible topic of conversation that might take place on September 14th. It is a conversation that is unlikely to happen, but it should. I would love to see a Liberty student ask Sanders something about abortion.

Sanders often talks about “protecting the most vulnerable Americans.” It is one of the lynchpins of his campaign. For Sanders, this means protecting senior citizens and children in poverty by strengthening government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social safety nets. People might differ with Sanders’s approach to protecting these “most vulnerable Americans,” but few would argue that senior citizens and children are not vulnerable and do not need protecting.

In his speech in Columbia, Sanders said with much passion and force:

“It is not acceptable that billionaires grow richer while kids in this country go hungry. If we are a moral people, we stand with the most vulnerable people, the most defenseless people, in our society. To turn our backs on the children while billionaires get richer is not what this country is supposed to be about.”

Preach it Bernie!

But how can a progressive Democrat concerned about defending the most vulnerable members of society fail to say anything about abortion? Whatever one thinks about the recently released Planned Parenthood videos, one thing seems clear:  aborted fetuses are alive, they are vulnerable and they need protection.

If Democrats like Sanders are concerned about the dignity of human life — all human life — they will protect these helpless babies and work to reduce the number of abortions in America.

Such a position seems perfectly consistent with the progressive morality Sanders is preaching.

It would also make for a great conversation at Liberty University.

And, perhaps most importantly for Sanders, it might make Christians like me — people who are serious about economic inequality and excited about the Sanders candidacy — to translate that enthusiasm into a vote.

Can Any of the Democratic Candidates Appeal to Evangelicals?

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Here is a taste of my recently published piece at Religion News Service:

Do the current Democratic candidates for president have any chance of winning evangelicals in November 2020?

Probably not.

Of the candidates left in the Democratic primary race, Pete Buttigieg has made the most of his Christian faith. Buttigieg regularly quotes the Bible on the campaign trail and is always ready to remind us that the Christian right does not have a monopoly on the language of faith.

But for many evangelicals, Buttigieg’s Bible-infused sermonettes seem indistinguishable from the usual Democratic talking points. One wonders if there is anything about his understanding of Christianity that would put him at odds with party orthodoxy.

Over the last couple of years, I have talked with a lot of Trump-voting evangelicals. Some go to my church. Some are in my family. We have exchanged emails and social media messages. I met many of them during the tour for my book “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”

Based on this anecdotal evidence, I know that a lot of evangelicals will vote for Trump again. I’ve even met a few evangelicals who voted for a third-party candidate in 2016 but plan to vote for Trump in 2020 because he appoints conservative Supreme Court justices, fights for religious liberty (as defined by conservative evangelicals) and defends the interests of Israel.

But I have also met people who voted for Trump in 2016 and are looking for a justification — any justification — to vote for a Democrat in 2020.

Read the rest here.

Former Christian Right Leader: “Trump has used the March for Life for his own ends”

SchenkDuring the 1980s and 1990s, evangelical minister Rob Schenk was at the forefront of many Christian Right initiatives. But over the last decade or so, Schenk has come to grips with the spiritual bankruptcy of the movement he once helped to lead.  He is the subject of the Emmy Award-winning documentary “The Armor of Light.” and the author of Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope, and Love.

Schenk is a March for Life veteran.  But this year he decided not skip the event.  Why?  Schenk explains in his recent piece at Sojourners.  Here is a taste:

With the campaign of Donald Trump, the movement I once devoted my life to was swallowed up by a political leviathan. In Trump’s craven pursuit of power, prestige, and the adulation of the crowds, the once poster boy for a lifestyle of pleasure-seeking and self-absorption that required legalized abortion for its own preservation, offered a deal to pro-lifers: Sell out to me and I’ll sell out to you. You’ll get everything you want if you give me everything I want.

Many pro-life leaders I know entered into this Faustian pact — and that’s why they giddily cheered Trump when he took the stage at Washington’s annual March for Life. Joining him on site was one figure who, back in my day, was rarely seen at a pro-life event: Franklin Graham. I remember when my colleagues and I were furious with Graham and other national evangelical celebrities who couldn’t have cared less about the child in the womb. But at the march, Graham was feted as a hero only because of his sponsorship of Trump.

In the end, though, what really grieved me was how little this will do for the desperate women and children — born and unborn — and for the quiet, unassuming helpers who stand with them. At the same time, it will only advance Trump’s cruel agenda that includes separating families at the southern border, deporting people who have only known the U.S. as their home, cutting back social programs for the poor, and, now, interrogating pregnant women seeking tourist visas. It will also give Trump a false moral cover for his exposure during his impeachment trial. Trump’s shameless exploitation of the pro-life movement, his crass transactional abuse of the sacred, and his quid-pro-quo terms for the movement’s leaders (Give-me-religious-cover-and-I’ll-give-you-your-judges) will continue to cheapen and contaminate what was once pure, holy, and human.

Trump has used the March for Life for his own ends. The pro-life leaders who ceded the stage to him did a supreme disservice to the people for whom that stage was built. If life really is sacred, then everything around it should be kept sacrosanct.

Read the entire piece here.

Court Evangelical Tony Perkins Tells Historian Tommy Kidd That He Will Need to “Give an Account” for Turning People Away from Trump

It begins at the 1:00:30 mark:

Todd Starnes:

There are still a lot of never-Trumpers out there.  I just don’t get these folks. There’s a guy named Thomas Kidd. The Ethics and Religious Commission–he’s one of their fellows.  They are part of the Southern Baptist Convention.  He put out a tweet yesterday.  He said: Hopefully it will be good for Trump personally to attend the March for Life.  It isn’t good symbolically for the pro-life movement to be associated with him.’  What do you make of that?”

Tony Perkins:

I don’t get it either, Todd.  I am at a loss…I’m having this discussion with, not a lot of people, cause most people who are honest will think through this process [and] look at what this administration has done.  The evidence is irrefutable….If people can’t see that and say, alright, I was wrong, this president has been doing this, I may not like his personality, I may not like his tweets, but I have to be honest, his policies are pro-life, they’re pro religious freedom–it’s everything that people in the Christian community who have been involved in this process have looked for for years.  It might not have come in the same package or the one that we desired, but it’s getting done, and so I have to admit it. They’re unwilling to do that and quite frankly, they will have to give an account for that some day–not before me, they’ll have to give an account for trying to turn people the wrong way when it comes to this administration (Italics mine).

Tommy Kidd can defend himself, but let me say a few things here.

Perkins’s comments make perfect sense.  Why?  Because he operates with a political playbook informed by the pursuit of political power and a nostalgia for a Christian founding.  The Christian Right rarely interrogates this playbook. Many of those who have interrogated it, and brought it into the light of scriptural teaching, have trashed it. So let’s be clear–when Perkins says Trump is doing  “everything that people in the Christian community…have looked for for years,” he is referring to Trump’s willingness to execute this playbook.  I would actually change Perkins’s quote to better reflect historical reality: Trump is doing everything that people on the Christian Right–a political movement that emerged in the late 1970s as a bulwark against cultural, racial, and demographic change in America–have looked for for years.  If you follow this playbook, then Trump is the greatest Christian president of all time.  He is indeed making America great again and he deserves everyone’s support.

In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I tried to show that this playbook is deeply flawed.  Fear, to quote Marilynne Robinson, is not a Christian habit of mind.  Granted, we are all afraid.  I fear what will happen to America and the church if Trump gets re-elected.  But I am not proud of the fact that I am afraid. I see it as a character flaw and a weakness in my Christian life.  The Bible tells us to “fear not.”  To dwell in fear is a sinful practice.  So I need to work harder, with the Spirit’s help, at replacing fear with Christian hope.  Tony Perkins and others are not only afraid, but they are building an entire political philosophy–the playbook I mentioned above–on fear.  Many of these fears, I might add, are not based on solid evidence. I write about this extensively in Believe Me.

And let’s talk about abortion.  Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am pro-life. I am supportive of the March for Life and have often thought of one day marching myself.  I also completely affirm Tommy Kidd and others who have said Trump is bad for the pro-life movement. Perkins says that “most people who are honest will think through this process.”  I try to be honest about my pro-life convictions.  And during the course of writing Believe Me I actually took some time to “think through” some of these issues. 🙂  I concluded that it is possible to be pro-life and not subscribe to the playbook of Tony Perkins and the Christian Right.  I am not going to go into detail here again about how that is possible, but I tried to make a clear case in Believe Me.

Will I have to give an account for what I have written?  Yes.  Will Tommy Kidd have to give an account?  Absolutely.  We all will. And that includes Tony Perkins and the rest of the court evangelicals.  They will need to give an account for their failure to speak truth to power.  They will need to give an account for empowering such an immoral president.  They will need to give an account for their decision to trade their Christian witness for a mess of political pottage and some federal judges.  They will need to give an account for all the young people leaving the church because of the hypocrisy that they see.  (And don’t tell me these young people don’t exist–I talk to them virtually every day).  They will need to give an account for how they have turned American evangelicalism into a laughing-stock among Christians around the world.

Yes, we will all need to one day give an account one day.

 

What Can Evangelicals Learn from Adam Schiff?

They can learn something about moral clarity. They can learn something about doing the right thing.  They can learn something about patriotism.

“If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost.”

Here is what Fox News had to offer in the wake of Schiff’s speech.

There is nothing here on the content or the merits of the House defense.  They are talking about television ratings and CNN.  They are making vague references to our “Constitution.”  Is this all the Fox News crowd has to offer–gotcha lines and sarcastic jokes?  I am guessing we will see more of this on Saturday when Trump’s defense lawyers take the stage.  Will Cipollone and Sekulow be able to present a counter-narrative to the one presented by the House Managers over the last several days?  Will they even try? Is there a fact-based alternative narrative?

It is only a matter of time before Robert Jeffress gets on Fox News with Lou Dobbs to trumpet the court evangelical defense of Trump.  Expect multiple appeals to Trump’s visit to the March for Life.  They are already weighing in:

What Will Evangelicals Do Without Starbucks?

Starbucks

Evangelicals love to drink coffee.  Some of the larger megachurches have coffee bars and cafes.  Back in 2007 or 2008, I wrote a piece about evangelicals drinking coffee during the church service.  Back then I felt optimistic that the piece might convince people to stop raising one hand in worship God while sipping a mocha with the other hand.  But I am afraid I lost that battle.  Today  the number of fluid ounces of coffee consumed in the sanctuary far exceeds the monthly intake of sacramental wine (ahem, grape juice).

I wonder how many pro-life evangelicals know that Starbucks supports Planned Parenthood?  Julie Zauzmer reports at The Washington Post:

The Rev. Bjorn Lundberg will escort busloads of his parishioners to Washington on Friday for this year’s March for Life. They won’t be stopping at Starbucks on the way.

The coffee giant is not aligned with their cause, Lundberg says. As a Catholic priest who leads a 9,500-member parish in Winchester, Va., he stopped patronizing Starbucks when he learned the chain matches its employees’ charitable donations, including to Planned Parenthood and other nonprofit groups that support abortion access.

“You’re talking about material cooperation,” the priest said. “If someone says, ‘I want to buy a refreshment from this restaurant’ and the restaurant very publicly supports some kind of abortion thing, then I am cooperating.”

Molly Spence, a Starbucks spokeswoman, confirmed that Starbucks matches employees’ donations to most nonprofits and called that “a far cry” from promoting abortion.

Read the rest here.

If only Chik-fil-A had good coffee!  🙂

The Court Evangelical Anti-Abortion Playbook

Abortion

Court evangelical Ralph Reed’s recent tweet says so much about how the Christian Right thinks about politics:

Earlier today Adam Schiff offered ten convincing reasons why Donald Trump “put himself first” in the Ukraine scandal.  Donald Trump always puts himself first.  To suggest, as Ralph Reed does, that “protecting the unborn” is one of Trump’s “top priorities” is not supported by the facts. Trump talks about “protecting the unborn” because it is politically expedient.  Throughout his entire public life, Trump’s views on abortion have changed with the political winds.  He did not become pro-life on abortion until he ran for president.  You don’t get pro-life bona fides by showing up at the March for Life.

There is little evidence that Trump cares about human dignity after the baby leaves the womb.  His policies on immigration, health care, guns, and the environment do not suggest a commitment to life.

I am often asked how the Christian Right can support a president of such immoral character and still sleep at night.  The answer is abortion. The Christian Right privileges abortion over all other issues.  It makes perfect sense that Reed thinks abortion is the primary reason conservative evangelicals should vote for Trump in 2020.  Reed is a political operative.  He knows his audience.

Of course it is certainly possible that a person could be pro-life on abortion, and even attend Saturday’s March on Life, and still conclude that Trump does not deserve the support of pro-life & evangelical voters. I know of several anti-Trump evangelicals who will be marching for life in Washington D.C. on Saturday.

Others might believe that Trump’s appointment of pro-life Supreme Court justices is a good thing, but not good enough to tolerate the rest of Trump’s immoral administration, both in terms of policy and presidential character.

Someone else might argue that overturning Roe v. Wade will do little to end abortion in America. They might wonder why millions and millions of dollars are spent on electing the right political candidates when the money could be used to reduce the number of abortions in ways that do not require the unsavory Christian Right pursuit of political power.

Reed knows only one political playbook.  It is the one he helped write.  It has proven to be a very effective.  In 2016, it led the Christian Right into bed with Donald Trump.  For at least a generation or two, evangelical Christianity will be associated less with its Gospel witness and acts of justice in the world and more with the corrupt and immoral presidency of Donald Trump.  It is too early to tell how this will change evangelical Christianity, but I guarantee future historians will explain it to us.

An Important Piece on Abortion That Will Irritate Both Sides of the Debate

abortion

Sometimes irritating the extremes is a good thing.  Here is Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter on the eve of the March for Life:

Friday, tens of thousands of people, mostly Catholics, will stream into our nation’s capital for the annual March for Life. It is a grim irony, and implacable evidence, of the strange times in which we live that the pro-life movement simultaneously has never been closer to its stated goal of overturning the Supreme Court’s decision to make abortion a constitutional right and never more threatened in its moral integrity and political efficacy. Regrettably, the Catholic left, with notable exceptions, appears largely unequal to the moment as well.

I question the moral integrity and political efficacy of the mainstream pro-life movement for a simple reason: By lashing themselves to President Donald Trump, they have morally and indelibly compromised their cause. The Susan B. Anthony List announced it will launch a $52 million campaign to reelect the president and help the Republican Party hold on to its majority in the U.S. Senate. Marjorie Dannenfelser, the group’s president, did not voice any concern about the unborn children waiting with their pregnant moms at the border, denied entry by a racist president who has turned his back on our nation’s proud history of welcoming immigrants. She did not explain how the president’s denial of climate change has retarded efforts needed to help the thousands of pregnant women in Bangladesh who are experiencing higher rates of miscarriages due to climate change. Nor did she explain why she thinks the theme of this year’s march — “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman” — is a thought that can be entrusted to a man whose misogyny is legendary. 

And here is a taste of Winters’s critique of the Catholic left:

One friend told me that I would never be in a position of having to decide to procure an abortion or not, so I really had no business telling any woman what to do. Of course, I welcomed the conviction of Gen. Ratko Mladic for war crimes, even though I am not a Bosnian and have never been a general. I am not a burglar and have never been burgled, but I am opposed to burglary. In those instances when a woman friend has contemplated having an abortion, I have done what I can to be supportive. That is simple decency. Being supportive is a moral good. Having an abortion is not.

The introduction of distinctions and nuances clarify, they do not confuse, the moral stakes. No less an authority than St. Thomas Aquinas treated abortion as manslaughter not murder, a kind of recognition of the increasing moral claims as a person advances along the continuum of development from cell to zygote to embryo to child. He never said it was morally permissible. On the other hand, pro-choice activists are quick to insist that the preborn child is a part of the woman’s body, which is undoubtedly true. Yet, is there no moral significance in the fact that the preborn child is the only part of a woman’s body that has a different DNA? Indeed, they tend to simply avoid the possibility that there is any moral significance to the sonograms they see on refrigerators. It is the same kind of denial of what science increasingly demonstrates that we witness with climate change deniers.

As a Catholic Christian, the only privileged hermeneutic belongs to the witness of the Scriptures and to the magisterium. I do not like it when pro-life activists cite scriptural verses as proof texts. Jeremiah 1:5 begins, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” and Psalm 139 echoes the idea, but proof texts are never convincing. The fact that one side of an argument is not convincing does not, ipso facto, make the other side cogent.

Read the entire piece here.

So you want some historical context on abortion in America?  Listen to our interview with historian Daniel Williams in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

How the Democratic Presidential Candidates Can Win Evangelical Votes

Buttigied

Pete Buttigieg at Jimmy Carter’s church in Plains, Georgia

Here is a taste of Elana Schor’s Associated Press piece “Democrats’ challenge: Courting evangelicals in the Trump era“:

 

President Donald Trump’s strong white evangelical support poses a challenge to Democrats: how to connect with a group of Christian voters whose longtime GOP lean makes them compelling antagonists in a polarized era.

Former President Barack Obama reached out to evangelicals in notable fashion during his White House bids, tapping well-known pastor Rick Warren to appear at his first inauguration and vowing to safeguard religious liberty as he launched a coalition of faith voters in 2012. While Obama’s efforts paid some dividends, Trump has complicated that task this year for Democrats who are balancing an appeal to religious voters with opposition to the sitting president’s agenda on issues important to evangelicals.

The value of making political space for more conservative-leaning evangelicals may be less urgent for Democrats now, amid a grueling primary where the party’s liberal base holds significant sway. But once Democrats choose a nominee, cutting into Trump’s popularity with white evangelicals — not to mention securing votes in minority evangelical communities — could make a pivotal difference come November’s general election.

To that end, multiple Democratic presidential hopefuls have talked about their faith on the campaign trail, weaving it into their approach to issues from health care to economics. Among the most vocal Democrats on that front is former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, who asserted his party’s connection to religion last week during its final primary debate before next month’s first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus.

Read the rest here.

Of the candidates left in the Democratic primary race, only Pete Buttigieg occasionally uses Christian language.  This commendable, but it is often hard to separate Buttigieg’s religious language from Democratic Party talking points. He will not win over many white evangelicals this way.

Over the last couple of years I have talked with a lot of Trump-voting evangelicals.  Some go to my church.  Some are in my family.  Many attended one of my events on the Believe Me book tour. Others I have encountered through social media or e-mail.

Based on this anecdotal evidence, I think there are a lot of evangelicals who will vote for Trump again. I’ve even met a few evangelicals who voted for a third-party candidate in 2016, but plan to vote for Trump in 2020 because he delivered on Supreme Court justices, religious liberty (as defined by conservative evangelicals), and Israel.

But I have also met people who voted for Trump in 2016 and are looking for a justification–any justification–to vote for a Democrat in 2020.  These evangelicals might vote for:

  1.  A Democratic candidate who speaks in genuine and sincere ways about reducing the number of abortions in America.  Preferably this would be a candidate who supports the Hyde Amendment.
  2. A Democratic candidate who recognizes the legitimate threats to religious liberty experienced by some Christian institutions.  Such a candidate might endorse something like Fairness for All or embrace something akin to John Inazu‘s “confident pluralism.”

That’s it.

If a candidate will speak proactively on both of these points he or she will steal a small number of evangelical votes away from Trump.  These votes may be all that is needed to defeat him.  But I don’t see it happening. No such candidate exists in the Democratic field.

If a candidate is not willing to part from the Democratic Party platform on these points then I see no political reason for her or him to talk about religion on the campaign trail.  Such a candidate should just take the route Hillary Clinton took in 2016– ignore evangelicals and try to win without them.  Let’s remember that such a strategy almost worked–Clinton won the popular vote by three million.

The Many Problems With Eric Metaxas’s “Christian Case for Trump”

Metaxas

Eric Metaxas has once again turned to the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal in defense of Donald Trump.  (Some of you may recall his October 12, 2016 op-ed in which he said “God will not hold us guiltless” if we vote for anyone but Trump).

Metaxas writes:

The [Christianity Today] article cleared its throat—and conscience—by declaring “unambiguous” the “facts” of the president’s guilt. Having thus defenestrated objectivity, the editorial cited his behavior in general as “profoundly immoral,” his character as “grossly” so.

But these subjective pronouncements promote a perversion of Christian doctrine, which holds that all are depraved and equally in need of God’s grace. For Christianity Today to advance this misunderstanding is shocking. It isn’t what one does that makes one a Christian, but faith in what Jesus has done.

Defenestrated?  Only elites use this word. 🙂

Let’s remember that Mark Galli’s piece in Christianity Today is an editorial.  Of course he “defenstrated objectivity.” That is the point.  Editorials are supposed to offer an informed opinion.

A couple of more thoughts here:

  1. How is the practice of calling out Trump’s immorality a “perversion of Christian doctrine?” The Bible is filled with prophets calling out sin. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Metaxas’s favorite historical character, called out sin. So did William Wilberforce, the subject of another Metaxas book.  What about John the Baptist? Or Jesus?  Metaxas’s remarks that the church is not responsible for calling out the sins of a leader is absolutely absurd.  I am surprised Metaxas did not cite Romans 13 like Jeff Sessions did in the summer of 2018 or the American loyalists did in 1776 or the Southern slaveowners did in the 1850s.  But I now understand that this is what court evangelicals do.  They claim that their political opposition has somehow perverted true Christian doctrine.  This is part of their strategy for defending God’s chosen one–Donald Trump.
  2. Metaxas believes that Christianity Today, in speaking prophetically against the corruption of the Trump presidency, is failing to acknowledge that Donald Trump is “depraved” and in need of “grace.” This, Metaxas argues, is a perversion of Christian doctrine.  But doesn’t “Christian doctrine” also require a person to repent of his sins as a prerequisite of receiving God’s grace?  Isn’t repentance an essential part of the Christian morphology of conversion?  I don’t know Trump’s heart, but I have yet to hear him ask for forgiveness for any of his sins.  In the end, I agree with Metaxas on this point: Trump is “depraved” and “in need of God’s grace.” So was almost every tyrant in world history.  What if Metaxas applied the same logic to Dietrich Bonhoeffer? He would have to argue that the great German theologian was wrong to criticize Hitler for his immorality because Hitler was “depraved” and in “need of God’s grace.” Was Bonhoeffer and his confessing church perverting Christian doctrine?

Metaxas continues:

The reason for the editorial is that evangelicals pronounced Bill Clinton unfit for office because of his moral failings. Thus, claim Mr. Trump’s detractors, evangelicals are hypocrites who’ve sold their souls for political power unless they issue a withering philippic against Mr. Trump. Christianity Today’s long-faced essay is meant to be that dressing-down, triggered by the “facts” of the impeachment.

But does the Clinton “character” comparison make sense? Aren’t the political realities different two decades later? The triangulating practicality and moderation of the Democrats under Mr. Clinton have been trampled beyond recognition by something untethered and wild, like horses racing to Venezuela.

In the 1990s some Democrats were antiabortion. Neither party could exclusively claim the high ground on this deepest of moral issues. Mr. Clinton spoke of making abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” No longer. Despite ultrasounds and 4-D imaging, Democrats endorse abortion with near unanimity, often beyond viability and until birth.  If slavery was rightly considered wicked—and both a moral and political issue—how can this macabre practice be anything else? How can Christians pretend this isn’t the principal moral issue of our time, as slavery was in 1860? Can’t these issues of historic significance outweigh whatever the president’s moral failings might be?

Thoughts:

  1. I want to make a historical point here. Indeed, Clinton wanted to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare” and pro-life Democrats were indeed easier to find in the 1990s.  But Clinton also refused to allow pro-life Democrats to speak at the 1992 Democratic convention. Most Pennsylvanians know that Governor Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat, was denied a speaking slot. Again, times have changed on this front.  There are fewer people like Bill Clinton and Bob Casey today.  But let’s not pretend that “neither party could exclusively claim the high ground” on abortion in the 1990s. Democrats were largely pro-choice. Republicans were largely pro-life.  This distinction was not lost on any of the members of the Christian Right alive at the time.  If Metaxas were writing in 1992 he would have been screaming bloody murder upon learning that Casey was denied a speaking slot.  Now, in 2020, it is convenient for Metaxas to make the historical claim that there were no significant divisions over abortion in the 1990s.
  2. Another historical point. Metaxas says that we cannot compare the Trump and Clinton impeachments because “the political realities” are “different two decades later.” But if we buy Metaxas historical claim that “political realities” change over time, then what should we make of his comparison between abortion and slavery?  Aren’t “the political realities different” sixteen decades years later? Slavery was indeed a moral problem in the 19th century.  Abortion is indeed a moral problem today.  But the comparison also has its limits.
  3. Metaxas will be happy to hear that I believe abortion is a principal moral issue of our time. We must continue to find ways of reducing this practice.  But Donald Trump is not the answer.

More Metaxas:

The pejorative du jour is to call evangelicals “transactional,” as though buying a loaf of bread and not simply praying for one were somehow faithless. But what is sneeringly called “transactional” is representational government, in which patriotic citizens vote, deputizing others to act on their behalf for the good of the country. Isn’t it conceivable that faithful Christians think Mr. Trump is the best choice?

Two thoughts:

  1. Let’s again remember that “patriotic citizens” also voted in the 2018 election. They elected Democrats to the House of Representatives.  When the people voted in 2018 they were, to use Metaxas’s words, “deputizing others to act on their behalf for the good of the country.”  Isn’t it “conceivable” that the American people’s vote in 2018 suggested that they were not happy with Trump?
  2. Metaxas concludes that “faithful Christians” made the correct moral choice when they chose Trump.  But it is also possible that they did not. “Faithful” evangelical Christians in the past have supported all kinds of things, including slavery, nativism, and Jim Crow segregation.  I chronicled this history in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Were the majority of Christians in the South morally correct when they preserve slavery morally correct?  Were the “faithful Christians” who supported slavery or Jim Crow laws making “the best choice?”  My intention here is not to compare evangelical Trump voters to slaveholders, but to show that just because most Christians vote a certain way does not necessarily mean that their collective voice represents the highest ethical norms.  For example, if I said that the “majority of faithful Democrats in the House want Trump impeached,” I would imagine Metaxas would claim that just because the majority of the House wants Trump impeached does not necessarily mean that the majority of the House is correct in such a decision.

Metaxas continues:

Can those troubled by Mr. Trump not at least imagine that removing him could lead to something even worse? Can the Democratic metamorphosis into an openly antiborder, socialist movement responsibly be ignored?

Here Metaxas assumes that all Democrats support socialism and open borders.  This is not true.  Metaxas is engaged here in Fearmongering 101.  He implies that if you do not vote for Donald Trump the country is going to be overrun by socialists and immigrants. Metaxas knows that most white evangelicals do not make a distinction between democratic socialism and Soviet-style communism.  He also knows that many white evangelicals worry that immigrants represent a continued threat to a white Christian America that is already in rapid decline.

Metaxas goes on:

Christians especially blanch to see religious liberty—once thought settled under Mr. Clinton with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993—suddenly under serious attack. Christians are staggered to see good souls who stand by millennia-old religious convictions portrayed as deplorable bigots. Democrats—and many Republicans, too—simply look away, seemingly resigned to a culturally Marxist future in which they too may at any minute be rent asunder by woke mobs.

Thoughts:

  1. I partially agree with Metaxas. There are a lot of serious concerns about religious liberty for Christian institutions. This is why I support Fairness for All and find myself in agreement with Washington University law professor John Inazu’s (and Tim Keller‘s) idea of “confident pluralism.” But let’s not pretend that Donald Trump has a perfect record on religious liberty.  See, for example, Steven Waldman’s recent piece at the conservative website The Bulwark or Melissa Rogers’s piece at Religion News Service.
  2. This paragraph is filled with dog-whistles and more fear-mongering.  Metaxas’s use of words like “bigots,” “Marxist,” and “woke mobs” are meant to scare evangelicals.  Metaxas, like many evangelicals, see Trump as a strongman. The Donald will protect him and all evangelicals from the Marxists and the woke mobs who will soon be arriving at their doorsteps.

Metaxas continues:

Given this new reality, is it any wonder Mr. Trump’s bellicosity often draws cheers?  Or that the appointment of originalist judges has become so urgent that some people are willing to countenance a chief executive who tweets like a WWE figure?

The cheers that Trump received last Friday during the recent Evangelicals for Trump rally (Metaxas was present) at an evangelical megachurch in Miami were deeply troubling. Here is my take on it.  As for the Christian Right’s false belief that the appointment of federal justices will end, or even reduce, abortions in America, see my argument in Believe Me.

Finally, the bio attached to the op-ed says, “Mr. Metaxas is the author of “If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty.” I wrote a series of posts on this historically problematic book here and another review here.

You can read the entire Metaxas Wall Street Journal op-ed here, but you will need a subscription in order to do it.

Ronald Sider on Abortion

sider_horz

Ronald Sider is a veteran of the evangelical left.  He is a longtime professor of theology at Palmer Theological Seminary (formerly Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary) and the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action.  He is best known for his 1977 book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.  I am also a fan of his book The Scandal of Evangelical Politics.

Ron will not remember this, but we first met in the late 1990s when he spoke at The Stony Brook School, an evangelical boarding school on Long Island.  Later, he asked me to present a paper on the recent history of evangelical political engagement at a Catholic-Evangelical dialogue on faith and politics at Georgetown University  That piece was eventually published as “A Brief History of Modern Evangelical Social Engagement” in Catholics and Evangelicals for the Common Good: A Dialogue in a Historic Convergence.

In a recent blog post, Sider chides his fellow Democrats for failing to take seriously the reduction of abortion in the United States.  Here is a taste:

Even if you think (as I do) that on a majority of issues, Democratic proposals (e.g.,  on racial and and economic justice, healthcare, taxes, climate change) are closer to a biblical vision than that of Republicans, still the ever increasing refusal of Democrats to take seriously the pro-life concerns of Christians and others is a problem.

Former President Bill Clinton told a good friend of mine that the reason his wife Hillary Clinton lost Pennsylvania (and therefore the presidency) was because of her radical stand on abortion. In 2008 when she ran for the Democratic nomination, she said abortion should be” legal, safe and rare”. In 2016, she no longer said it should be rare. The head of the Democratic National Committee recently told another good friend of mine that in  his circles, one did not dare even  use the word  “reduction” when talking about abortion.

For years a number of congressional Democrats supported the Hyde amendment which prevented government using our tax dollars to fund abortions. That action respected the beliefs of pro-life people. But Democrats no longer support that provision.

There  used to be dozens of  pro-life Democrats in the US Congress who supported  some restrictions on abortion. Today only five are left.

The powerful, well-funded national association of Democratic state attorneys-general has recently announced that they will refuse to endorse anyone who does not support abortion and favor expanding abortion services. In the first national debate for Democratic candidates for president, one questioner asked if there was any circumstance where abortion should be restricted. Not a single Democratic candidate named any restriction.

This rigidity is politically foolish. The Gallup Paul repeatedly has shown that about 25% of Americans think abortion should never be legal.  25% think it should be legal in every situation. And about 50% think abortion should be legal ONLY in certain circumstances. 

One would think the Democrats would ponder the fact that Democrats very recently won the race to be governor in two very conservative states ( West Virginia and Louisiana) where Donald Trump won by  huge margins in 2016. And both successful Democratic governors endorsed a pro-life agenda that would place some restrictions on abortion.

Former Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp is right; “There are very principled people who are Democrats, who feel very strongly about this issue  [abortion] for religious reasons and when you say you’re not welcome in our party I think it is exclusionary”(New York Times, Nov. 18, p. A11). 

And politically stupid!

Read the entire piece here.

Sider echoes (or maybe I echoed him!) my argument about Hillary Clinton in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  In that book I called for a reduction in the number of abortions in America, but I also argued that overturning Roe v. Wade is probably not the best way of doing this.

When a Pro-Life Democrat Wins the African-American Vote and Defeats a Pro-Trump Candidate in Louisiana

John Bel Edwards

This weekend Louisiana’s Democratic governor John Bel Edwards was reelected.  He defeated a Trump-supported Republican named Eddie Risponse.  Trump visited Louisiana twice in the last two weeks in the hopes of getting Risponse elected.  It did not help.

It is worth noting that John Bel Edwards greatly expanded Medicaid in Louisiana.  He also signed a bill banning abortion after a heartbeat is detected.  And his victory was largely due to overwhelming support among Louisiana’s African Americans.

Over at First Things, Fordham University moral philosopher Charles Camosy offers some analysis of Edwards’s victory.  Here is a taste:

It would be interesting to know what white, progressive, highly educated Democrats think of all this. After all, they have been primarily responsible for the party’s turn to the kind of abortion extremism that would have doomed an orthodox Democrat in a race like this one. Mother Jones ran a piece a few days before the election with the headline, “Is There Still Room for an Anti-Abortion Hardliner in the Democratic Party?” The answer in the party platform—which claims that abortion should be unrestricted, that it should be paid for by pro-lifers’ tax dollars, and that it is “core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing”—is obviously in the negative.

But when faced with the prospect of a Trump-supported governor, Democratic activists changed their tune. This kind of change needs to happen more generally throughout the party, especially as we head into 2020. In 2016, Trump over-performed with African Americans and Latinos—populations which tend to be more abortion-skeptical than white Democrats. For the Democrats’ progressive leadership, which at least says all the right things about listening to voices of color, the factors behind Edwards’s reelection should be highly instructive. But the party, at least as currently constituted, is light years away from permitting a pro-life Democratic candidate from running for national office.

And this:

Despite struggling in purple states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, there is, remarkably, increased talk of the Democrats becoming a dominant party by turning big states like Texas from red to blue. But it is nearly impossible to see how this would work given their current abortion platform—which, in addition to just being politically bananas, is made-to-order for devastating pro-life messaging.

Indeed, recent studies of pro-life political advertisements in Texas found that they had the biggest impact on—wait for it—Democratic-leaning women, young voters, and Latino voters. Such ads moved them 10, 8, and 13 points, respectively. And they had real political results—pushing Governor Abbott to a whopping 44 percent approval rating with Latinos, for instance. Is it possible that the progressive, white abortion rights activists who dominate the Democratic party leadership could be marginalized in favor of those genuinely committed to listening to black and Latino voices on abortion?

One might think that Trump’s 2016 victory, coupled with the Edwards reelection, would be enough to push the party to change course. But the bubble of coastal elites (on both right and left) is a difficult one to burst. I fear that only something totally devastating—like a 2020 Trump victory—could shake up the current leadership.

Read the entire piece here.

The “Outer Limits” of a Pro-Choice Position on Abortion

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I applaud The Atlantic for publishing this piece and I appreciate Chavi Karkowsky‘s courage in writing it.  Whatever your position on abortion, it is worth your time.

Here is a taste:

One day about seven months ago, I was standing in a dark room in a hospital not far from Tel Aviv, performing an ultrasound on the taut belly of a woman well into her third trimester. She was 35 weeks pregnant, due in about a month. She and I felt the fetus kick, right under the ultrasound probe. “Strong one!” I said in Hebrew. She smiled. I managed to freeze a sweet picture of the bow-shaped fetal upper lip, and pressed “Print,” to give to her later.

Then I measured the fetal head, snug against her pelvic bone. The numbers on-screen suggested that it was too small. I measured it again. Still small. So I measured it again, and again, and again. Everything else in this pregnancy looked healthy: the volume of amniotic fluid, the general size of the fetus, the structure of the heart and brain. According to the woman’s chart, everything had been fine, all the way through.

At that point, I needed to tell her about that small head and what it might mean for her future child’s development. This is not uncommon; it’s a situation I’m used to dealing with easily. But in that room, I was overcome with a strong urge not to tell her what I’d observed, because I feared where that discussion might lead. I am an American ob-gyn. In most states in my native country, third-trimester abortions are illegal or nearly inaccessible. In practice, only a handful of facilities in the entire United States perform abortions after 26 weeks for nonlethal anomalies. But here in Israel, abortion is widely available and can be offered until delivery. A subtle abnormality, such as the one I saw in that ultrasound room outside Tel Aviv, can prompt a discussion of pregnancy termination. Even at 35 weeks.

Within the American abortion debate, I am pro-choice in a concrete way. Giving women information about their pregnancies and helping them assess their options, including termination, is part of my life’s work. When state legislatures in Georgia, Louisiana, and a host of other states have taken up bills to limit abortion rights, I have always known which side I am on.

But in that dark room so far from home, I was deeply uncomfortable discussing abortion with a woman 35 weeks into her pregnancy, when that fetus had no clearly lethal or debilitating problem. By then, I’d been living in Israel for about a year, and practicing medicine at a local hospital for about six months. In Israel, everything was different—perhaps including me. In that dark room, I felt lost, as I confronted the outer borders of my pro-choice beliefs.

Read the rest here.

When Does a Life Issue Demand Political Action and When are Just “Thoughts and Prayers” Enough?

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In the wake of the El Paso and Dayton shootings, conservative evangelicals are offering lots of thoughts and prayers.  Many of them are saying that we need to solve the problem of mass shootings through a spiritual reformation.  The real problem, they preach, is the moral degradation of our culture.  Guns don’t kill people, mentally disturbed and sinful people kill people.

Here are a few recent tweets:

R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things magazine, says that the problem is not guns, but marijuana, out-of-wedlock births, relativism, multiculturalism, progressivism, and a general “cultural collapse.”  In a strange turn in his piece, he randomly defends the late Southern Baptist segregationalist W.A. Criswell.

In some ways, these conservative pundits are correct.  We do live in a coarse culture.  I imagine future historians, if they are good, will see the rise of violent video-games, toxic social media, unprecedented access to unhealthy material online, intense political partisanship, and the presidency of Donald Trump as contributing to a culture that might lead to mass shootings. David Brooks is correct when he says that we have a culture problem.  And let’s not forget that the renewal of white supremacy and racism is also part of this cultural decline, something that Reno and most court evangelicals do not mention.

I agree that prayers are important.  We Christians have a spiritual responsibility to pray for those suffering in the wake of these horrendous shootings in El Paso and Dayton.  I am not entirely sure that calls for prayer and spiritual renewal will bring deep change in the culture (I am with James Davison Hunter on this point), but I do think that these things are important and our churches and pastors should be encouraging them.  I am enough of an evangelical to believe that anything is possible with God.

But I also worry that appeals to thoughts, prayers, and spiritual revival are often an excuse for not doing anything real and practical about guns in America.

Many Christian nationalists like to claim that our rights come from God.  They jump from Thomas Jefferson’s line in the Declaration of Independence about our rights coming from our “Creator” (1776) straight to the Bill of Rights (1791).  They assume that because Jefferson said it, it must be true for both founding documents.  But does the Bible really affirm a “right” to bear assault style rifles?  Did James Madison write the Second Amendment to reflect some kind of biblical mandate about self-defense, or was it written in the context of the colonial militia system practiced in eighteenth-century America, as historian Saul Cornell has argued?  (For the record, it is the latter).

The idea that the Constitution is a sacred document, ordained by God and informed by biblical principles, is popular among many American evangelicals.  As a result, sensible reforms in the area of gun control pose a threat to what is affirmed in a document that, for many God and country patriots, carries a level of cultural authority that is barely one notch below the Bible.  We can’t let those liberals take our guns!  Our right to bear arms comes from God and we must defend the document that makes us a Christian nation!  (See Carol Kuruvilla’s recent piece at HuffPost.  I was happy to contribute to it).

So we offer thoughts and prayers and calls for spiritual awakenings.  The problem is not guns, it is the people who use them.  Legislation will not solve the problem, so why bother with it?  Let a thousand assault rifles bloom.  It is our right to have them.  What did Charlton Heston say about his “cold, dead hands?”

I think most Christian nationalists would say that human life is valuable.  If this is true, then mass shootings are a “life issue.” Christians of all stripes believe that life is precious because God created us in His image.  This idea is at the heart of the anti-abortion crusade in America, but it has not gained any traction in the area of gun control.  When babies are aborted the Christian Right rarely talks about praying for the mothers who have the abortion or the families who have suffered through the decision.  Instead, they seek to solve the problem of abortion by trying to legislate morality through political organization, proposing bills, and voting for the right political candidates who will appoint the right justices who share their sacred (and borderline idolatrous) view of the Constitution.  (I have critiqued some of this approach in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump).

In other words, when it comes to abortion, conservative evangelicals act.  But when it comes to gun control, we just get thoughts, prayers, and calls for revival.

Over 600,000 babies were aborted in 2015.  What if evangelicals took the same approach to this large number of abortions that they do with mass shootings? If they took this route they would cease thinking creatively (and perhaps even legislatively) about this moral problem and retire to their prayer closets.  Why take the fight for the dignity of human life to the public square when you can just ask God to send another Great Awakening?

As Christians we must pray for God’s presence in our lives and culture.  May He heal our land and give us a glimpse of a coming Kingdom defined by love, peace, and justice.  But American history teaches us that reform usually happens when Christians act.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  Let’s pass sensible gun laws.

ADDENDUM:  A shorter version of this post appeared, with a different title, on August  7, 2019 at The Washington Post.

Michael Wear: “Democrats Shouldn’t Be So Certain About Abortion”

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When it comes to abortion politics, Michael Wear, an evangelical Christian and member of Obama’s faith-based initiative team, is one of our most important voices.  His piece in today’s New York Times is one of the best things I have read on the subject.  Here is a taste:

According to some progressives, Democrats need to learn from Mr. Trump’s style of politics and name enemies, draw harder lines and callously stoke the animosities that roil Americans’ lives for partisan advantage.

This emulation of Mr. Trump’s flattening of our political discourse to its extremes is evident in many areas, but perhaps nowhere more clearly than on abortion. There were several examples of this just in the last month.

In the first presidential debate, Senator Elizabeth Warren was asked if there was any restriction on abortion she supported; she could not name one, and no other candidate on the stage tried to either. Joe Biden was berated by his Democratic competitors and others for his previous support for the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion, and announced that he would now oppose it. And yet a Politico/Morning Consult poll from June showed that slightly more Democratic women support the Hyde Amendment (at 41 percent) than oppose it (at 39 percent). Overall, 49 percent of registered voters support Hyde, compared with 32 percent who oppose it. It is not so much that Mr. Biden was out of step with the Democratic electorate, but that the 2020 Democratic candidates are out of step with American voters, even Democratic voters, on the issue of abortion.

Read the entire piece here.