James Dobson in September 1998 vs. James Dobson in September 2020

Court evangelical James Dobson just released his monthly newsletter. It is worth comparing what Dobson said about presidential character in 1998 with what he is saying today about presidential character.

Here is 1998 (italics mine):

As it turns out, character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world! Nevertheless, our people continue to say that the President is doing a good job even if they don’t respect him personally. Those two positions are fundamentally incompatible. In the Book of James the question is posed, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring” (James 3:11 NIV). The answer is no.

Read the entire statement here. The president at the time was Bill Clinton

Here is his most recent newsletter:

How will Americans, and how will you, decide who to vote for as our Chief Executive Officer? I have heard from dozens of friends and acquaintances in recent weeks who tell me they will base their decision solely on a candidate’s rhetoric, tone, style, or likeability. Does that describe your thinking process? … This vote has awesome implications for future generations and the nation we love. It is about our Constitution and the immutable, God-given rights it protects. It is about values, and truth, and greatness, and hope. That is why the notion of choosing a president based on frivolous personality characteristics is so unfortunate.

Read the entire letter here.

I think I will just leave it there.

What does Donald Trump really think about the court evangelicals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

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

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

How are federal taxes spent?

Here is the context for this post.

Defense

Homeland security

Social security

Medicare

Medicaid

Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

Unemployment insurance

Food stamps

Low-income housing assistance

Programs for abused and neglected children

Interest on the national debt

Benefits for veterans

Scientific research

Medical research

Transportation (trains, roads, bridges ,etc.)

Education

Source

Trump lies every time he opens his mouth

The president is coming to my neck of the woods tonight–Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. As he boarded the helicopter he had a few words with reporters. I counted at least four lies or misleading statements in less than ten minutes.

First, he said “we are leading in Pennsylvania.” Actually, Biden is leading every major poll.

Second, Trump said he was leading in Florida. Of seven major polls, Trump is leading in one of them (ABC News/Washington Post), he is tied in two of them (Reuters/Ipsos and Florida Atlantic), and trailing Biden in four polls.

Third, Trump criticized the Iowa Democratic “primary” for not knowing who won on election night (Feb. 3, 2020). “Many ballots were missing,” he said. This is impossible because Iowa has a “caucus,” not a “primary.” Ballots are not used.

Fourth, when asked about this Tuesday’s debate with Joe Biden, Trump said that Biden’s public appearances are “different each time” depending on if he is taking a “different medication.”

And evangelical theologian Wayne Gruden believes that Trump does not lie.

Should liberals fear Amy Coney Barrett?

They won’t like the way she interprets the law, but she is certainly qualified to serve as a Supreme Court justice.

Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School says Barrett “deserves to be on the Supreme Court” despite the fact that he disagrees with her on “almost everything.” Here is a taste of Feldman’s recent column at Bloomsberg:

I disagree with much of her judicial philosophy and expect to disagree with many, maybe even most of her future votes and opinions. Yet despite this disagreement, I know her to be a brilliant and conscientious lawyer who will analyze and decide cases in good faith, applying the jurisprudential principles to which she is committed. Those are the basic criteria for being a good justice. Barrett meets and exceeds them.

I got to know Barrett more than 20 years ago when we clerked at the Supreme Court during the 1998-99 term. Of the thirty-some clerks that year, all of whom had graduated at the top of their law school classes and done prestigious appellate clerkships before coming to work at the court, Barrett stood out. Measured subjectively and unscientifically by pure legal acumen, she was one of the two strongest lawyers. The other was Jenny Martinez, now dean of the Stanford Law School.

Here is O. Carter Snead, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, in a piece at The Washington Post:

Even more reassuring to Barrett skeptics should be her remarkable humility. There are plenty of smart people in elite academia and on the federal bench, but few with Barrett’s generosity of spirit. She genuinely seeks to understand others’ arguments and does not regard them as mere obstacles to be overcome on the way to reaching a preferred conclusion. Time and again, I have seen her gently reframe a colleague’s arguments to make them stronger, even when she disagreed with them. And she is not afraid to change her own mind in the search for the truth, as I have seen in several of our faculty seminars. Such open-mindedness is exactly what we want of our judges — and what we can expect Barrett to bring to the Supreme Court, because that is who she has always been.

There is no need to fear Barrett’s faith. To the contrary, her commitment to treating others with respect grows directly out of her religious convictions. But Barrett’s love of neighbor goes beyond merely treating others with dignity. In all the time I have known her, I have never once seen Barrett place her needs above those of others.

A few years ago, a blind student matriculated as a first-year law student at Notre Dame. Upon arrival, she encountered delays in getting the technological support she needed to carry out her studies. After only a few days in Barrett’s class, the student asked her for advice. Barrett’s response was “This is no longer your problem. It is my problem.” Barrett followed up with university administration herself, got the student what she needed, and then mentored her for three years. That student just completed her service as the first blind female Supreme Court clerk in U.S. history.

Read the entire piece here.

The American Historical Association responds to Trump’s White House American History event

Here it is:

On September 17, the White House announced, “In commemoration of Constitution Day, President Trump will travel to the National Archives to participate in a discussion on the liberal indoctrination of America’s youth through the 1619 Project, Critical Race Theory, and other misleading, radical ideologies with a diverse group of professors, historians, and scholars. The President will deliver remarks on his Administration’s efforts to promote a more balanced, accurate, and patriotic curricula in America’s schools.”

This hastily assembled “White House Conference on American History” took place in the Rotunda of the National Archives, although the National Archives and Records Administration had no role in organizing the program. The organizers of the event neither informed nor consulted associations of professional historians. 

The American Historical Association addresses this “conference” and the president’s ill-informed observations about American history and history education reluctantly and with dismay. The event was clearly a campaign stunt, deploying the legitimating backdrop of the Rotunda, home of the nation’s founding documents, to draw distinctions between the two political parties on education policy, tie one party to civil disorder, and enable the president to explicitly attack his opponent. Like the president’s claim at Mount Rushmore two months ago that “our children are taught in school to hate their own country,” this political theater stokes culture wars that are meant to distract Americans from other, more pressing current issues. The AHA only reluctantly gives air to such distraction; we are not interested in inflating a brouhaha that is a mere sideshow to the many perils facing our nation at this moment. 

Past generations of historians participated in promoting a mythical view of the United States. Missing from this conventional narrative were essential themes that we now recognize as central to a complete understanding of our nation’s past. As scholars, we locate and evaluate evidence, which we use to craft stories about the past that are inclusive and able to withstand critical scrutiny. In the process, we engage in lively and at times heated conversations with each other about the meaning of evidence and ways to interpret it. As teachers, we encourage our students to question conventional wisdom as well as their own assumptions, but always with an emphasis on evidence. It is not appropriate for us to censor ourselves or our students when it comes to discussing past events and developments. To purge history of its unsavory elements and full complexity would be a disservice to history as a discipline and the nation, and in the process would render a rich, fascinating story dull and uninspiring.

The AHA deplores the use of history and history education at all grade levels and other contexts to divide the American people, rather than use our discipline to heal the divisions that are central to our heritage. Healing those divisions requires an understanding of history and an appreciation for the persistent struggles of Americans to hold the nation accountable for falling short of its lofty ideals. To learn from our history we must confront it, understand it in all its messy complexity, and take responsibility as much for our failures as our accomplishments.

Read the cosigning organizations here.

Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem believes that Trump does not tell lies. Also, anyone who believes Trump is trying to “divide us” is bearing false witness”

Last December I wrote a post titled, “Wayne Grudem lives in a different moral universe than I do.” Grudem’s recent interview with World magazine has not changed my mind one bit.

Here is Grudem:

President Trump has made wise decisions regarding the coronavirus pandemic in the midst of misleading, lying information from China and conflicting advice from scientific and economic experts.

“Wise decisions”?

Trump knew the coronavirus was “deadly and airborne” and he refused to tell the American people about it. He held five rallies after he received word of the virus’s deadly nature and did little to address it in the early months. He says he banned travel from China, but this is misleading.

By downplaying the virus, Trump put lives in jeopardy and people died. He empowered anti-maskers and continues to hold mass rallies with no social distancing or masks. He has thousands, if not millions, of followers who think COVID-19 is a “fake.” Thoughtful evangelicals are calling him out for his anti-science views. He has taken medical advice from the My Pillow guy, pushed unproven drugs, and even said that bleach and household disinfectants might help stop the virus. While people die, Trump hawks beans, undermines the country’s chief immunologist, wants to discuss flavored vaping, and retweets game show hosts. Trump has placed his own political ambitions over science. And all the time he claims that he has “total authority.”

Wise decisions?

Grudem goes on:

On racial issues, his leadership led to an economy with the lowest black unemployment since we’ve been keeping records, with great gains among lower-income workers. He pushed for greater school choices in minority neighborhoods and stronger law enforcement to bring more safety to inner cities.

Seriously?

Was Grudem on another planet all summer? Trump is doing everything possible to ignore the cries of the African-American community in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Instead he denies the existence of systemic racism, rallies his white base by attacking critical race theory, connects violent protests to Black churches, says he wants to save the suburbs from rioters (most of whom are black), inspires white supremacists at national parks, retweets people yelling “white power,” and uses the Bible as a political prop to enforce “law and order” and stop a peaceful anti-racism protest. And this is just in the last six months. Let’s not forget Charlottesville, the NBA, and the NFL.

Grudem claims that anyone who says Trump is dividing the country is lying:

It’s bearing false witness against President Trump to say he seeks to divide us. He isn’t responsible for the rioting, the burning of cars, the blocking of public roads and sidewalks that began on day one of his presidency. No Americans legitimately have a fear of physical violence … for putting a Biden sticker on their car or wearing a Joe Biden campaign shirt or hat. But I know many evangelicals, including myself, who fear being physically attacked or shouted at if I were to put a Trump bumper sticker on my car or wear a MAGA or Trump-supporter hat in public.

Does Grudem really believe that Trump is not a divider? Trump has made almost no attempt to bring the country together. His entire presidency is about appealing to his base and hoping that they will give him another four years. To claim that Trump is not a divider, and then go as far to say that anyone who says he is a divider is “bearing false witness,” sounds like comical propaganda.

More Grudem:

I looked at The Washington Post’s list of what it calls 16,000-some “lies” Trump has spoken and examined 20 or 30 of them. They’re what I’d call conclusions drawn by a hostile interpreter of words that a sympathetic listener would understand in a positive way. President Trump is often not careful in some of the things he says. He is given to exaggeration. Sometimes he’s made a statement after being given inaccurate information. I’m not sure he’s ever intentionally affirmed something he knows to be false, which is how I define a lie. As you know, I have written an ethics textbook. I believe it’s never right to affirm X when you believe X is false. If someone wants to point out to me some actual Trump lies that fit that definition, I’d be happy to look at them. 

You can look at The Washington Post list of Trump lies and misleading statements and decide for yourself. Here a a list of just his coronavirus lies and misleading statements. Watch this:

Grudem’s claim about lying is interesting. He says that Trump has never “intentionally affirmed something he knows to be false.” Grudem may be right. Maybe Trump believes all the untruthful things he says are actually true. This may be worse than outright lying because it reveals his incompetence. But Wayne Grudem knows best: “you know, I have written an ethics textbook.” Or maybe he just received a prophetic word.

Here is more:

The Trump presidency has resulted in a stronger economy, stronger national defense, positive steps toward achieving border security, standing up to China and Russia, negotiating new trade agreements, advocating educational freedom, standing with Israel, strengthening our military, and reforming our judicial system. Those are all what seem to me to be evidence of God’s blessing on the nation with President Trump. If he wins again, I expect there will be more blessing on our nation. If Biden is elected, he’ll support abortion, cripple the economy, weaken our military, largely abandon Israel, select more judges who legislate from the bench, weaken religious freedom. We’ll have more crime, a complete federal takeover of our healthcare system, and much more that looks like the withdrawal of God’s blessing.

Not sure where to begin here. The economy is a mess. People are out of work. Russia is trying to undermine our elections. There is no wall.

The rest of Grudem’s statements here are Christian Right talking points that I have addressed over and over again at this blog and in Believe Me. Grudem has no proof that the things he mentions here will take place in a Biden presidency. Abortion, as I have said many times here, is actually declining in America and there is no reason to believe it will not continue to decline during a Biden presidency. Notice how Grudem invokes the idea that the United States is in a covenant relationship with God. This “New Israel” language goes all the way back to the 17th century Puritans in Massachusetts Bay. It is also fits well with Mike Pence’s 2 Chronicles 7:14 rhetoric.

Read the entire interview here.

Today at *Time*: Conspiracy theories then (1790s) and now (2020s)

Time is running my piece on the Bavarian Illuminati. A taste:

In the final weeks before the 2020 election, the outsize role of conspiracy theories in American politics has become unmistakable. For some Trump supporters in particular, campaign-season news is filtered through the powerful idea that hidden forces are at work, that the “deep state”—a supposed secret, shadowy and sinister group of leftist politicians, government bureaucrats, Chinese scientists, journalists, academics and intellectuals—is seeking to destroy American values. Seen through that lens, COVID-19, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans, is a “hoax”; some even believe that Anthony Fauci is a “deep state doctor.”

But while the particulars of these theories may be new, the dynamics are not. In fact, they go all the way back to America’s earliest years: In the late 1790s, Jedidiah Morse, the congregational minister in Charlestown, Mass., and a well-known author of geography textbooks, drew national attention by suggesting that a secret organization called the Bavarian Illuminati was at work “to root out and abolish Christianity, and overturn all civil government.” Today, such an idea sounds both eerily familiar and like a relic of a less sophisticated time—but the lessons of that episode are decidedly relevant.

Read the rest at Time.

“Fig leaves” for a “Trumpist-state dictated popular history”

Over at the anti-Trump conservative website, The Bulwark, historian Ronald Radosh reflects on the recent “White House Conference on American History.”

He calls the entire event “bizarre.”

Here is a taste:

I have nothing but disdain for the professors who use their courses to try and convert their students to Marxism or any other radical ideology. The late historian Eugene D. Genovese was a major historian. The books and articles he wrote while he was a Marxist hold up, as do those he wrote when he became a conservative Catholic. I knew him well enough to know that in both phases he did not indoctrinate students; he only taught history so that students could understand the past of the American South and its legacy of slavery.

Everything the panelists said at last week’s conference must be looked at in the context of the event itself. Historian L.D. Burnett, writing in Slate, is incorrect when she writes that the conference was “100 percent anti-intellectual.” Allen Guelzo, for example, did not offer a right-wing rant. But even his appearance—as with those of all the participants—served as a fig leaf, providing legitimization for the development of a Trumpist state-dictated popular history that would be used to teach a “patriotic” version of our nation’s past.

This is not the attitude of many of the radical professors who are historians I still know. They do not insist that their students agree with them. The activist and professor Cornel West team-teaches a course with Robert P. George at Princeton University. Robby has written about how West’s list of books and articles to read includes scores of conservative books with which he does not agree. Both men are completely supportive of free speech on campus.

The serious historians who participated last week, as well as the other panelists, were there to provide a cover for the politicized history that Trump favors. Nothing, however, compared to some of the remarks Ben Carson made. Since everyone knows he was a medical doctor of great accomplishment, but not a historian, nor even someone known to have given any thought to the subject of the conference, why was he even there? A clear reason is that he is an African American, and stood out in a panel composed of all white men and two women.

Read the entire piece here.

Radosh also references criticisms of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States by Michael Kazin, Sam Wineburg, and David Greenberg.

He also references Kazin’s criticism of Bill McClay’s book Land of Hope, a text featured at the White House event.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The court evangelicals get another chance to execute their political playbook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Trump now believes that the president is “constitutionally obligated” to appoint a Supreme Court justice

Trump says he is “constitutionally obligated” to nominate someone to serve on the Supreme Court:

Trump is correct. He is constitutional obligated to nominate someone to serve on the Supreme Court. So was Barack Obama in 2016.

Watch:

And here was Donald Trump in 2016 on whether or not Obama should pick the next Supreme Court justice:

I think the next president should make the pick,” Trump said. “And I think they shouldn’t go forward, and I believe, you know, I’m pretty much in line with what the Republicans are saying. I think that the next president should make the pick. We don’t have a very long distance to wait. Certainly they could wait it out very easily. But I think the next president should make the pick. I would be not in favor of going forward.

What has changed, Donald?

Court evangelical Franklin Graham: America has reached a “boiling point”

A friend recently sent the following article with the words, “I wish we could say his actions and words had mitigated this problem…”

Here is a taste of a piece on Graham’s upcoming prayer march:

Rev Franklin Graham has said current events this year such as the coronavirus pandemic and injustice has caused the US to reach a boiling point.

He told The Christian Post: “I think there’s kind of a boiling point here with many people,” he said. “We have seen injustice on our streets and some of our communities. The frustration that people aren’t heard, that people are marginalized. It seems that all of this is boiling at the same time. 

“Republicans cannot fix it; Democrats cannot fix it. Only God can.”

The US evangelist was speaking in an interview ahead of his national prayer march taking place on 26th September in Washington DC.

Thousands of people will walk on the National Mall from Lincoln Memorial to the US Captiol building, pausing to pray and different landmarks.

He said in a video on the event website: “America is in trouble, it’s in distress, but we do have hope and that hope is in almighty God.

“We need to pray now more than ever, more than we’ve ever done in our life. Our communities are hurting, our people are divided and there’s fear and uncertainty all around us.”

Rev Graham told The Christian Post it’s hard to say whether there can be a Great Awakening in the nation because many pastors won’t be vocal and give the Biblical view on controversial subjects. 

“For many in the Church today, they’re comfortable and a lot of our pastors don’t want to rock the boat,” he said.

Read the rest here. Graham assumes he is on the side of the angels and his divisive rhetoric over the past decade has had nothing to do with our current moment.

The Trump campaign sends Eric out to win the evangelical vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed Ayers on Trump’s White House history conference

Here is University of Richmond historian Ed Ayers at The Washington Post:

Despite the sustained offensive by those who would save America’s honor, the insidious enemy apparently endures, as dangerous today as ever, worthy of frontal attack by the president of the United States and a new 1776 Commission “to promote patriotic education,” to inject an antidote to the “ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together.”

These charges concern and puzzle me because they suggest I have been obtuse and perhaps even deluded. As it turns out, I have practiced history for most of the half-century in which these wars over history have been waged — and I have yet to meet anyone who works to destroy the United States. It makes me wonder whether I have been going to the wrong conferences and reading the wrong books, whether I have been left out of exclusive circles where plans are shared.

If this critique had merit, I should have been in the room when the plans were hatched. After all, I sought out the subjects often attacked as the nest of dangerous ideas. I have written books about crime and punishment in the South, about the rise of segregation and disfranchisement, about the Civil War and Reconstruction. Those topics deal with Black people, enslaved and free. They wrestle with lynching and chain gangs. They confront secession and the waging of war against the United States.

I haven’t hidden this work. Over the course of four decades, I have been fortunate to teach thousands of students, to work with museums of many sizes and missions, to help host television and radio shows and podcasts about American history, to work with the National Archives and the Library of Congress, to serve on commissions about African American history and Confederate monuments.

I have done that work because I care about my nation, my people. I do it because I love my native South, where I have chosen to live and to help raise our children. I do it because the United States has indeed been given a great opportunity, enjoyed by few nations in the history of the world, to create its history for itself. To live up to that opportunity, we owe it to ourselves to face the past honestly and fearlessly.

In all that work, I have yet to meet anyone who matches the description posted by the would-be defenders of our history. Instead, I meet people, from all kinds of backgrounds, who care about America, who are fiercely devoted to its institutions, rights and future. I meet people who long to share the freedom of our nation more broadly and more equitably, to explore injustice to lessen injustice.

Read the entire piece here.

When historians on the Left and the Right engage in “the pleasures of condemnation”

Yesterday I wrote about the White House’s conference on American history. Read that post here. Conservatives are cheering the event. Those on the Left–particularly academic historians–are trashing the event.

There are a lot of reasons to be critical about what happened at the White House last Thursday (again, read my post). But I often wonder if those on the academic left are engaging in the same kind of anti-intellectualism, rigid fundamentalism, and cancel culture as those on the right.

Meanwhile, there is a very large intellectual center in America made-up of people on the Left and the Right who are not willing to be pulled to the fringes. I think this large center–a place of open discourse and academic freedom–is articulated best in the recent letter published in Harpers magazine and signed by the likes of Anne Applebaum, Margaret Atwood, David Blight, David Brooks, Noam Chomsky, Gerald Early, Francis Fukuyama, Todd Gitlin, Malcolm Gladwell, Anthony Grafton, David Greenberg, Jonathan Haidt, Jeet Heer, Matthew Karp, Randall Kennedy, Damon Linker, Dahlia Lithwick, Greil Marcus, Wynton Marsalis, Deirdre McCloskey, John McWhorter, Samuel Moyn, Olivia Nuzzi, Mark Oppenheimer, George Packer, Nell Irvin Painter, Orlando Patterson, Steven Pinker, Claire Potter, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, J.K. Rowling, Salmon Rushdie, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Paul Starr, Gloria Steinem, Michael Walzer, Cornel West, Sean Wilentz, Molly Worthen, and Fareed Zakaria.

These signers and other like-minded academics, intellectuals, and thinkers, are calling for the “free exchange of ideas,” which the letter describes as the “lifeblood of a liberal society.” Read the statement here.

Western Washington historian Johann Neem, the author of several books including What’s the Point of College?: Seeking Purpose in an Age of Reform, reflects the spirit of the Harpers letter in a recent twitter thread:


Amy Coney Barrett and the “Kingdom of God”

Notre Dame Law School professor Amy Coney Barrett is on Donald Trump’s short list to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Trump met with Barrett yesterday.

Back in September 2017, I called your attention to political philosopher Bill McCormack’s piece at America. Read that post here.

I also wrote about California Senator Diane Feinstein’s claim that “dogma lives loudly” in Barrett. Read that post here. In that post I republished Notre Dame president John Jenkins’s letter to Feinstein. Here it is again:

Dear Senator Feinstein:

Considering your questioning of my colleague Amy Coney Barrett during the judicial confirmation hearing of September 6, I write to express my confidence in her competence and character, and deep concern at your line of questioning.

Professor Barrett has been a member of our faculty since 2002, and is a graduate of our law school. Her experience as a clerk for Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is of the highest order. So, too, is her scholarship in the areas of federal courts, constitutional law and statutory interpretation. I am not a legal scholar, but I have heard no one seriously challenge her impeccable legal credentials.

Your concern, as you expressed it, is that “dogma lives loudly in [Professor Barrett], and that is a concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” I am one in whose heart “dogma lives loudly,” as it has for centuries in the lives of many Americans, some of whom have given their lives in service to this nation. Indeed, it lived loudly in the hearts of those who founded our nation as one where citizens could practice their faith freely and without apology.

Professor Barrett has made it clear that she would “follow unflinchingly” all legal precedent and, in rare cases in which her conscience would not allow her to do so, she would recuse herself. I can assure you that she is a person of integrity who acts in accord with the principles she articulates.

It is chilling to hear from a United States Senator that this might now disqualify someone from service as a federal judge. I ask you and your colleagues to respect those in whom “dogma lives loudly”—which is a condition we call faith. For the attempt to live such faith while one upholds the law should command respect, not evoke concern.

Now Barrett is getting criticism for a remark she made about the “Kingdom of God.”

Christian conservatives like Barrett are not the only public figures who talk about the Kingdom of God.

Obama said this on the presidential campaign trail in 2007. At the 2011 National Prayer Breakfast, Obama said:

My Christian faith, then, has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years,” Obama said. “All the more so, when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time, we are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us but whether we’re being true to our conscience and true to our God. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Jimmy Carter also believes that Christians should be working to promote the Kingdom of God. Here is an interview with NPR in which he talks about “God’s Kingdom on Earth.”

All Christians believe in some version of the “Kingdom of God.” Students of American religious history know that this phrase has been used just as much by Christians on the left as on the right. The idea of ushering in the Kingdom of God was at the heart of the early 20th-century movement known as the “Social Gospel,” a form of Christianity committed to bringing faith to bear on matters of poverty, racism, and other forms of injustice. In fact, the social gospelers talked about bringing God’s kingdom to earth a whole lot more than the Protestant fundamentalists. Most conservative Protestants in the early 20th-century showed little concern for social issues. They just wanted to get people “saved” and ready for the rapture.

But how does Amy Barrett use the phrase “Kingdom of God?” The source of all the controversy today comes from a 2006 commencement address to the graduates of Notre Dame Law School. You can read that address here. A taste:

Sometimes we’re tempted to say that a Notre Dame lawyer is a different kind of lawyer because he or she is an ethical lawyer. But that can’t be right. Our profession is in pretty deep trouble if the only ethical lawyer is the different one. When you leave here, hold yourselves to the highest ethical standards, and be leaders in that regard. But maintaining high ethical standards ought to be something that characterizes our whole profession—not something that causes Notre Dame lawyers to stand apart.

So if being a different kind of lawyer is not defined by the body of knowledge you have mastered or by the ethical standards you are expected to maintain, might it be defined by the kind of law you choose to practice? The banner hanging in the main reading room says, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Surely we can expect that, as a Catholic law school, our commitment to social justice will lead a higher-than-average percentage of you to choose to work on behalf of the disadvantaged and oppressed. We can expect Notre Dame lawyers like my own classmate, Sean Litton, who left a successful and lucrative practice at Kirkland & Ellis to work for a human rights organization with the mission of eliminating sexual trafficking in southeast Asia. Many of you, like my classmate Sean, will work in the public interest sector, and Notre Dame will be proud of you. But many of you will work in the private sector, and Notre Dame will be proud of you too. It cannot be that being a different kind of lawyer is defined by the kind of law one practices, for that would leave too many of our graduates out of the definition.

So what then, does it mean to be a different kind of lawyer? The implications of our Catholic mission for your legal education are many, and don’t worry—I’m not going to explore them all in this short speech. I’m just going to identify one way in which I hope that you, as graduates of Notre Dame, will fulfill the promise of being a different kind of lawyer. And that is this: that you will always keep in mind that your legal career is but a means to an end, and as Father Jenkins told you this morning, that end is building the kingdom of God. You know the same law, are charged with maintaining the same ethical standards, and will be entering the same kinds of legal jobs as your peers across the country. But if you can keep in mind that your fundamental purpose in life is not to be a lawyer, but to know, love, and serve God, you truly will be a different kind of lawyer.

As she closes her speech, Barrett encourages the graduates of this Catholic law school to:

  1. Pray about their calling as lawyers
  2. Give a percentage of their salaries to the church and other charitable causes
  3. Seek a Christian community that will assist them in advance their calling as agents of the kingdom of God.

I have written a lot at this blog about the “Kingdom of God.” My understanding of the meaning of this phrase is very similar to Barrett. While some might use the phrase “Kingdom of God” to promote some kind of theocratic takeover of government, this is not how most Christians use the term.

Christians believe that the Kingdom of God was initiated when Jesus died and rose from the dead. We still live in a broken world, but we get occasional glimpses of the new creative order–the coming Kingdom– when we see acts of compassion, justice, reconciliation, mercy, and love.  Moreover, when we creative work that is good, beautiful, or based in truth we are, in some small way, building this new kingdom. A longing for this kingdom is at the center of Christian hope. This is why we pray as Jesus taught us: “They Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Here is Oxford University historian and theologian N.T. Wright from his book Surprised by Hope:

But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain.  You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire.  You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site.  You are–strange though is may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself–accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.  Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness, every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world–all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.

Here is Wright again:

What you do in the present–by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself–will last into God’s future.  These activities are not simply ways of making the present life less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we will leave it behind altogether (as the hymn  so mistakenly puts it, “Until that day when all the blest to endless rest are called away”). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

The practice of the law is a way in which Christians can live-out their callings as faithful members of the God’s Kingdom. This is what Barrett was telling the graduates of Notre Dame law school.

The real question is whether or not Barrett, if nominated and confirmed, would confuse the Kingdom of God with her responsibility to interpret the law of the United States of America. They are not the same thing.

This clip has some of Barrett’s 2018 responses to the questions of Democratic Senators during her confirmation hearings. I’d recommend stopping it at about the 2:37 mark.

UPDATE: I just read Jack Jenkins’s piece on this at Religion News Service. It includes several quotes from Catholic theologians and other experts claiming that it is perfectly fine for Senators to ask Barrett if and how her faith will shape her legal decisions as a Supreme Court justice.