Roy Moore and the “Invisible Religious Right”

Roy Moore,Patricia Jones

The phrase “court evangelicals” has made it into in a New Yorker article.  Read Benjamin Wallace-Wells’s piece here.

A taste:

As Trump became more prominent, a few significant figures from the religious right arranged themselves as what the historian John Fea, of Messiah College, in Pennsylvania, calls “court evangelicals.” These figures—such as Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell, Jr., or the Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress—were willing to cheer on the collapse of distance between the evangelical grassroots and the Republican Party. A few weeks ago, Jeffress welcomed Sean Hannity to his church. The young Alabama pastor I talked to had watched Hannity’s appearance, and thought of the liberal who might have entered the church that day on a spiritual quest, only to be alienated by Hannity’s rhetoric. “Then I had a second, more horrifying thought,” the pastor told me. “What about the lost person who comes in because he watches Hannity? He assumes he’s already a Christian. He’s not looking for grace, because he doesn’t realize he needs it.”

Also this:

One view that I heard from evangelical intellectuals is that Trump and Moore represent a last, furious spasm of the culture wars. John Fea, of Messiah College, pointed out to me how thoroughly the Trump and Moore campaigns were invested with a baby-boomer mixture of nostalgia and fear. “It’s like Pickett’s Charge,” Fea said. “The next generation may reject these political power plays among Christians.” But no such rejection had yet happened. The Roy Moore campaign in Alabama has not so much seemed like a battle in the culture war as a reunion of some of its most devoted veterans. “I am loyal to my friends,” Gonnella, of Magnolia Springs Baptist Church, told me, in explaining why he had stood by Moore. “I don’t desert them.”

Read the entire piece here.

Yes, I did teach the Civil War this semester.  This probably explains why I made the “Pickett’s Charge” reference.

I wish I had more time to blog about this whole Roy Moore mess, but I have been too busy with this.

Roy Moore Reminds Us When America Was “Great”

Moore RoyIt was during the era of slavery.

Read all about in this piece at VOX.

A taste:

Alabama’s Republican candidate for Senate, Roy Moore, says America needs to be a bit more like it was when it had slaves.

This is not a joke or exaggeration. When asked earlier this year when America was last great, Moore acknowledged, according to the Los Angeles Times, that the country had a history of racial tensions. Then he answered the question: “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another. … Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”

The quote comes from a Los Angeles Times report published in September, but it was recently resurfaced by a viral tweet from former Obama administration official Eric Columbus.

There are so many problems with this remark that it’s hard to know where to start.

Read the entire piece here.

Quotes of the Day


Federalist 57The aim of every political Constitution is or ought to be first to obtain for rulers, men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue the common good of the society, and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous, whist they continue to hold their public trust.

Federalist 68Talents for low intrigue, and the  little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of the President of the United States.”  It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.

My Visit to Calvin College Made the Student Newspaper!


Read all about it in the December 1, 2017 issue of Chimes.

Here is a taste of Hannah Butler’s article:

Concluding the history department colloquium for the fall semester, John Fea lectured on President Trump’s Christian advisers and the historical context of their position.

Fea, who identifies as an evangelical Christian, visited from Messiah College, where he is a professor of early colonial history. His latest book , entitled “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”covers evangelical Christians and Donald Trump The book was prompted by several blog posts as well as nearly thirty op-ed newspaper articles throughout the 2016 election cycle.

John Fea encouraged students to become active citizens through engaging the relationship between religion and politics in American life.

“I think any Calvin student, in order to be a responsible citizen, needs to understand how we’ve gotten to the particular political moment that we’re in,” stated Fea, whose own daughter is a sophomore at Calvin. “Christians who voted for Donald Trump or who didn’t vote for Donald Trump just didn’t fall from the sky. There’s a long trajectory of changes that have happened through the years that brought 81% of American Evangelical Christians to vote this man for president.”

In his lecture, Fea created a narrative to answer how history facilitates our understanding of the democratic government and our political community on campus. He stated that “political dimensions need to be understood in context.”

Read the entire piece here.

A Few Quick Thoughts on the Alabama Senate Race

Roy Moore,Patricia Jones

I contributed to this article at  Also good to see Believe Me get its first plug.

Here is a taste:

At least two professors who are carefully watching the Senate race believe that let’s-just-win politics is taking a toll on evangelicals.

“I do think nationally, the Trump/Moore candidacies have hurt the reputation of evangelicals,” said Jason Roberts, a Falkville native who’s a political science professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “It is not so difficult to respect a differing viewpoint if it is ground in core values like religion. … But I do think the continued support for Moore/Trump among religious leaders have made people realize that this support is not clearly grounded in religious differences.”

John Fea, chairman and professor of history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, goes further. He’s written a book, “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” to be released in the spring.

Fea said the efforts among Christian conservatives to “win back the culture from the forces of secularization” have been ongoing since the late 1970s. He calls it the evangelical’s “political playbook.”

The strategy, in short: Elect a president and members of Congress who will pursue laws aligned with evangelical views, and who will approve like-minded Supreme Court justices.

“The 2016 election put this playbook to the ultimate test,” said Fea, who describes himself as evangelical. “The playbook survived its greatest challenge, but only by separating the political agenda of the playbook from the necessity of Christian character.”

He said, “The political playbook has taught conservative evangelicals that they must maintain power at all costs, even if it means looking the other way when multiple women accuse a candidate for the U.S. Senate of sexual molestation and harassment.”

“First, it tells the world that Christians are in the business of forcing their views on others through legislation and executive actions,” said Fea. “Second, it neglects to remember that Christians follow a savior who relinquished worldly power even to the point of giving his life. Yet, my fellow evangelicals do not seem to see Jesus’s example as a model, or at least a starting point, for thinking about their engagement in the world.”

Read the entire piece here.

We Have An Amazon Page!

Still too early to pre-order, but the book does appear to exist in the minds of the good folks at Eerdmans.  Here is a brief description of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

“Believe me” may be the most commonly used phrase in Donald Trump’s lexicon. Whether about building a wall or protecting the Christian heritage, the refrain is constant. And to the surprise of many, about 80% percent of white evangelicals have believed Trump-at least enough to help propel him into the White House. Historian John Fea is not surprised-and in Believe Me he explains how we have arrived at this unprecedented moment in American politics. An evangelical Christian himself, Fea argues that the embrace of Donald Trump is the logical outcome of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for an American past. In the process, Fea challenges his fellow believers to replace fear with hope, the pursuit of power with humility, and nostalgia with history.

“Rank Hypocrisy”

Roy Moore,Patricia Jones

Marc Fisher of The Washington Post recently asked me for some thoughts on Roy Moore.  Here is a taste of his piece “For some evangelicals, a choice between Moore and morality.”

Evangelicals are not alone in shifting their view of the role moral character should play in choosing political leaders. Between 2011 and last year, the percentage of Americans who say that politicians who commit immoral acts in their private lives can still behave ethically in public office jumped from 44 percent to 61 percent, according to a Public Religion Research Institute/Brookings poll.During the same period, the shift among evangelicals was even more dramatic, moving from 30 percent to 72 percent, the survey found.

“What you’re seeing here is rank hypocrisy,” said John Fea, an evangelical Christian who teaches history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “These are evangelicals who have decided that the way to win the culture is now uncoupled from character. Their goal is the same as it was 30 years ago, to restore America to its Christian roots, but the political playbook has changed.

“With Donald Trump, the playbook faced its greatest test because he was not a man of character that evangelicals could embrace, but many did anyway. In the Roy Moore situation, very much like Trump’s Access Hollywood situation, they’ve decided that the need to keep the Senate justifies embracing someone whose behavior they would universally condemn,” Fea said. “I wish I could tell you there was some interesting theological distinction here, but it’s all just politics. It is a form of moral relativism.”

Read the entire piece here.

We Have a Title!


Yesterday I was at Calvin College to try out some of the material from my forthcoming book on Donald Trump.  A lot of smart people at Calvin gave me a lot of things to think about as I wrap-up the manuscript.  Thanks to Kristin Kobes Du Mez of the Calvin College History Department and Kevin Den Dulk of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics for inviting me to speak.

At the start of my lecture I announced the book’s title:

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

Let me know what you think.  The book will be out with Eerdmans in the Spring.

Here is how I closed my lecture at Calvin:

When Donald Trump speaks to his followers in the mass rallies that have now become a fixture of his populist brand, he loves to use the phrase “believe me.”  The internet is filled with video montages of Trump using this signature catch phrase.  (He says it even more than “Make America great again!”):

            “Believe me folks, we’re building the wall, believe me, believe, me, we’re building the wall.”

“I love women.  Believe me, I love women.  I love women. And you know what else, I have great respect for women, believe me.”

“I am the least, the least racist person that you’ve ever met, believe me.”

“The world is in trouble, but we’re going to straighten it out, OK.  That’s what I do. I fix things.  We’re going to straighten it out, believe me.”

And, perhaps most importantly:

“So let me state this right up front, [in] a Trump administration our Christian heritage will be cherished, protected, defended, like you’ve never seen before. Believe me.”

Why do the the court evangelicals and their followers believe in Donald Trump?  They believe in this man because fear paralyzes them, power seduces them, and nostalgia blinds them.  Donald Trump will be gone in 2021 or 2025.  Let’s pray that he does not take the evangelical church with him.

“And meet me tonight in Atlantic City” (Trump Version)

Gabrielle Bluestone is brilliant!  An editor at Vice News and and an attorney, Bluestone also appears to be a Bruce Springsteen fan.  Here is her unique twitter-take on a Springteen classic:

Read the rest here.

Liberty University: The “Fox News of Academia”

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Education journalist Rick Seltzer has an extensive piece at Inside Higher Ed on Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr.  Read it here.

A few highlights:

  • Falwell Jr. once told the Liberty University students that he is a “redneck at heart.”  (He said this while introducing comedian Jeff Foxworthy).
  • When Falwell Jr. took over in 2007, Liberty University had 27,000 students.  Today it enrolls 110,000.  Only 15,000 study on the university’s Lynchburg. Virginia campus.  The rest study online.
  • Falwell Jr. dreads public speaking.  Seltzer says that he speaks with a “resonant, wandering, mumble.”
  • The Green family of Hobby Lobby and Museum of the Bible fame have an academic building named after them on the Liberty campus
  • During the interview with Seltzer, Falwell Jr. took a call from Don McGahn, the White House counsel. #courtevangelical
  • Falwell Jr.  thinks that Liberty University needs a “Trump Tower.”
  • Many Liberty administrators thought Falwell would endorse Ted Cruz, not Donald Trump
  • When Falwell Jr.  spoke at the Republican National convention in 2016 he was instructed by a speech coach.
  • Falwell Jr.  has a habit of dismissing criticism as “grandstanding” or “publicity stunts.  He did this the other day in the Jonathan Martin incident.  In the IHE article he said that the Liberty alumni who wanted to return their diplomas to protest Falwell Jr’s support for Trump are a “joke.”
  • Kenneth Carren, the president of Lynchburg College, often consults with Falwell Jr. on local issues.  Carren said that Falwell Jr. “has always been helpful and supportive” and is “a really nice guy.”
  • Falwell Jr. claims that his support of Trump has led to a “whole lot of money” in donations.  He also says that Liberty’s student body is now “bursting at the seams” because of his support of the POTUS.
  • Falwell Jr. talks regularly with Trump.
  • Since Liberty does not have tenure, they can easily fire professors if their online programs stop bringing in revenue.  Falwell Jr. says that because Liberty does not have tenure it attracts professors who are “risk-takers.”  He claims that his “risk-taking” faculty is “one of the reasons we’ve been so successful.”  I would be interested in knowing if the faculty see this the same way.
  • The faculty understand that the “rule” at Liberty University is to “keep your head down and teach.”
  • Falwell Jr. said he would be happy to host comedian Bill Maher at Liberty.
  • When asked if Liberty would invite Colin Kaepernick to campus to speak, Falwell  Jr. claimed he did not know who Kaepernick was.
  • Falwell Jr. believes that for every student who did not come to Liberty because of his politics, “I think there’s probably two that did.”
  • Falwell Jr. says Liberty is the “Fox News” of academia.
  • Falwell Jr. gets bored a lot.  When this happens he sends out a controversial tweet.


Still More on John Kelly’s Civil War Comments


In addition to my analysis of Kelly’s remarks and Carole Emberton’s Washington Post op-ed, I also want to call your attention to Jennifer Schuessler’s New York Times piece on this controversy.  It is a nice overview of the various compromises that took place from the drafting of the Constitution in 1787 to the outbreak of Civil War in 1861.  She quotes David Blight, Manisha Sinha, and David Waldstreicher.

Read it here.

The Latest from Liberty University

The details are still coming in, but it appears that a Christian minister named Jonathan Martin was removed from the campus of Liberty University yesterday after coming to Lynchburg to see a Johnnyswim concert.  He also invited students to meet with him for the purpose of praying for the university and its court evangelical president, Jerry Falwell Jr.

Here is what Martin wrote on his Facebook page this morning:

First off, I want to apologize to the group of @LibertyU students who were going to meet me at 7am for prayer tomorrow outside the library. This is a crucial moment in history, & what you do with it matters–so I hope you will still come & seek divine wisdom to be faithful in it. Tonight after the JOHNNYSWIM show, 3 armed Liberty University police officers (& I think 2 not in uniform) came & escorted me out of their green room. They served me papers & took my picture, told me I would be immediately arrested if I ever stepped foot on Liberty property again.

This was evidently in response to my strong criticism of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s alignment not only with the darkest contours of Trumpism, but expressly with Steve Bannon & the alt-right he represents. I came to the show tonight as a guest of JOHNNYSWIM. I committed no crime (except perhaps to sing too loudly to my favorite JOHNNYSWIM songs 🙂 ) I was openly considering some sort of future action oriented around prayer & repentance, but came this time only for the show & for a time of prayer tomorrow morning to seek divine guidance as to what faithful, humble-but-clear Christian resistance might look like. What does it mean for a college administration to be this afraid of free speech? What precisely is Jerry Falwell Jr. afraid of? He openly encourages students to carry weapons, but is afraid of public prayer from Christians who openly embrace nonviolence.

This confirms what I’ve heard repeatedly of the authoritarianism of Falwell from students & faculty at Liberty: like the president for whom he serves as a full-time apologist, Falwell does not easily tolerate robust dissent. One might rightly ask what sort of Christianity Falwell represents, or what it has to do with “liberty.” I encourage those students who rightly discern his syncretistic blend of nationalism & Christianity to still come & pray in the morning at 7am. The power of God’s Spirit inside of you is greater than the forces that conspire against your faithful witness. After that, if any students want to meet for further prayer & conversation, I will be in the lobby at the Lynchburg Fairfield Inn at 8am.

This is a heavy moment in history. Sons & daughters of the church, those of us who have gone before you have overwhelmingly lost the plot. I am sorry for the ways in which we have failed you (& by we I do include “me”). We need your voice, your wisdom, your courage, now. It seems much of evangelical faith in America has been hijacked, doesn’t it? But the future is worth fighting for, friends. Press on.

Martin is a popular Pentecostal pastor (Church of God–Cleveland, TN) at a church in Tulsa, Oklahoma who has been a vocal opponent of Donald Trump and his presidency.

After the concert and his removal from campus he posted pictures of himself with the members of Johnnyswim, who apparently invited him to the concert.

Martin, who apparently has a following among the student body at Liberty, originally invited students to meet him for prayer in front of the university library.

But this all changed after he was removed from campus last night.  The prayer event was move to the Fairfield Inn in Lynchburg.  (Not sure how many students showed up).

It also seems that Martin had something bigger planned than just a prayer meeting with a few friends.  This is what probably caught the attention of the Liberty University security team (and Jerry Falwell Jr.).

Let’s see how this develops.  Whatever the case, Martin seems to have the ear of some Liberty University students and Falwell Jr. seems nervous.

What Trump Followers Believe:


Anthropologist Robert Leonard listened to Trump’s speech at the recent Values Voter’s Summit.  Here his take on Trump voters:

Trump began by saying we are a nation of believers and that “together we are strengthened and sustained by the power of prayer.” Democrats want prayer out of the public sphere.

Trump called the Las Vegas shooting a “horrific mass murder” and an “act of pure evil.” Democrats blame the guns and want to take yours away.

Trump honored the heroes of Las Vegas, including the police officers and other first responders. Democrats elevate thugs and view our protectors in blue with disdain.

Trump quotes scripture. Democrats ridicule those who do.

Trump stresses unity. Democrats divide American society into victims and oppressors.

Trump says, “We love our country.” Obama went on an international apology tour.

Trump says, “We cherish the sacred dignity of every human life.” Democrats murder babies.

Trump says, “We believe in strong families.” Democratic policies pull them apart.

Trump says, “We are proud of our history.” Democrats tear down monuments.

Trump says, “We respect our great American flag.” Democrats take a knee.

I could go on. There’s much, much more in Trump’s speech that’s fodder for conservative thought.

The first instinct among Democrats, moderate Republicans and other anti-Trumpers will be to point out that many of these statements are wrong.  But does that really matter?  This is what Trumpers believe. The more you condemn these beliefs, the more they will be ensconced among the Trump faithful.  The real question is whether or not it is possible to change a few hearts and minds on at least some of these issues.

Read Leonard’s entire piece in the Kansas City Star

Heard Yesterday In My Evangelical Church:

From yesterday’s sermon:

I think its true in our church and I think its true in a lot of Christians that I encounter that don’t go to this church.  I’ve noticed more and more recently that we are relating to the world and the culture around us through the lens of fear.  We are operating more out of fear than out of trust in God.  We are afraid and there is no good result from engaging the world from a place of fear.  There is nothing positive that comes from engaging the world as an afraid person.  It causes us to trust in the wrong people and the wrong things to protect us.  I see it in us.  We are turning to the wrong saviors. We think our salvation lies somewhere where it does not.  [We are] grasping at power in our current cultural atmosphere and trying to maintain influence.  By the way, that’s not the way to get influence–to continue grasping at it desperately.  Fear always leads to anger.  The person who is afraid long enough will always turn angry.  Fear never leads to peace.  Fear never leads to joy.  It always leads to anger, usually anger at those who are not like you.  I see it.  As I was reading these chapters in Isaiah [13-20] this week I said to myself “this is important.”