The Court Evangelicals Want Vengeance Against China

Trump and China

Vengeance is mine, says the Lord (Rom. 12:9). Unless it is China.

Court evangelicals want Trump to punish China for spreading the coronavirus to the United States.

Here is a taste of Gabby Orr’s piece at Politico:

Others said Trump’s No. 1 priority — besides containing the virus inside the United States — should be forcing the Chinese regime to take responsibility for the global pandemic.

“From the time he rode down the escalator at Trump Tower, President Trump made clear there would be a new sheriff in town when it comes to dealing with China,” said Ralph Reed, co-founder of the Faith & Freedom Coalition.

“China lied about the genesis of the virus and under-reported their own cases. These are actions that cannot be ignored and for which China must be held responsible, and I think taking action to do that only serves to deepen the president’s commitment,” Reed added.

The push for retaliatory measures by some of Trump’s leading Christian supporters underscores the dicey position in which he finds himself as the 2020 election closes in: forced to determine whether a laundry list of accomplishments, such as an intact trade deal with China, will carry him to reelection or if the deciding factor will be how voters score his handling of Covid-19. Part of that rests on whether his response to the Chinese government satisfies conservative evangelicals, a demographic that comprises much of his political base and which the Trump campaign has sought to grow in recent months.

“People don’t want China to get off scot-free,” said Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn. “I think it’s important to realize there are lots of people who are very concerned with what has transpired, so of course they want China to be held to account.”

In an interview, the Tennessee senator said Trump needs to maintain a “working relationship” with Beijing as efforts to contain Covid-19 continue in the U.S. But she added that Trump cannot let China escape culpability for under-reporting domestic cases of the virus and inflicting damage on the global economy as a result of its cover-up. Blackburn has proposed legislation to reduce America’s reliance on China for pharmaceutical supplies.

“The ironic and disgusting thing about China is they get to both create demand and then fulfill demand,” said Gary Bauer, a Christian activist who was appointed by Trump to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

And then there is pastor Mark Burns‘s strange reference to the Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence:

“I agree with Sen. Graham,” said Mark Burns, a South Carolina pastor and top Trump surrogate who wants the president to lead a coordinated international effort to hold China accountable for its Covid-19 response.

“It’s similar to when our founders began drafting the Declaration of Independence and they felt that Thomas Jefferson should write most of it because he was from Virginia, which at the time was the strongest and most powerful colony. President Trump should lead this response and rally other nations who have been greatly affected by the virus to challenge China on a major scale,” Burns suggested.

Read the entire piece here.

Why are the court evangelicals so concerned about China?

First, Christian Right politics always needs an enemy. People like Ralph Reed, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, and Mark Burns see themselves as perpetual victims. In the forty-five years after World War II, evangelicals had an ever-present enemy in the “godless communism” of the Soviet Union. Some conservative evangelicals even believed that the flouridation of the American water supply was part of a communist plot to poison Americans. Now those on the Christian Right believe that the Chinese (or perhaps Kim Jong Un) are trying to kill us with coronavirus.

Second, the court evangelicals seem to be linking their concern about persecuted Christians in China with the spread of the virus. I am not sure how these two are related, but as long as China is punished for something, the court evangelicals will be satisfied.

Third, Christian Right politicos believe that if Trump punishes China for the coronavirus it will translate into conservative evangelical votes in November.

Why Robert Jeffress Needs Socialism

This Fox News segment got some traction yesterday:


1. Robert Jeffress claims that Democrats are on the wrong side of every major faith issue, especially abortion.  He always pivots to abortion because he believes it is the most important faith issue on the table.  Fair enough. But he also pivots to abortion because he wants to rally his Christian Right base to vote for Donald Trump. Jeffress is a surrogate for Trump and a spokesperson for the American political movement known as the Christian Right. He has credentials for serving in these roles because he is a minister of a Dallas megachurch.  Jeffress’s constant call to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” is disingenuous. He pulls out this verse whenever he wants to dismiss an approach to Christian politics that does not fit comfortably within his Christian Right playbook. Jeffress can say that the Democrats are on the “wrong side” of “every major faith issue” in America because he believes that there are only three such issues: abortion, religious liberty, and support for Israel.

2. Jonathan Morris is correct. The Democratic Party is not going to attract evangelicals until it moderates some of its positions on social and moral issues. I made roughly the same case here.

3. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, a black pastor and politician, says that the black church is committed to acts of mercy and justice that today we might call “socialism.” While I appreciate Dawkins-Haigler’s counter to Jeffress, we need to be careful about pinning a modern political ideology on Jesus.  Jesus was not a socialist.  There was no such thing as socialism at the time Jesus lived.

4. Jeffress, of course, is not going let Dawkins Haigler’s reference to socialism slide.  The very utterance of the word raises the hair on the back of his neck. Culture warriors and fundamentalists like Jeffress are incapable of taking nuanced approaches to these kind of issues. Instead of suggesting that socialist concerns about the plight of workers might have some overlap with Christian views of social justice, Jeffress claims that socialism is “absolutely antithetical to Christianity.” (Of course there are millions of Christians around the world and many in the United States who disagree with him here.  I guess they’re not real Christians).  Jeffress needs socialism.  It is vital to the survival of his fear-based approach to Christian politics.  Without the constant “threat” of socialism he loses his political brand. His statement equating socialism to “communism lite” reminds me of historian Richard Hofstadter‘s words about McCarthyism in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life:

The [McCarthyite] inquisitors were trying to give satisfaction against liberals, New Dealers, reformers, internationalists, intellectuals, and finally even against a Republican [Eisenhower] administration that failed to reverse liberal policies.  What was involved, above all, was a set of political hostilities in which the New Deal was linked to the welfare state, the welfare state to socialism, and socialism to Communism. 

For Hofstadter, McCarthy’s attack on communism was part of a deeper fear-based politics, something he would later call the “paranoid style“:

The deeper historical sources of the Great Inquisition are best revealed by the other enthusiasms of its devotees: hatred of Franklin D. Roosevelt, implacable opposition to New Deal reforms, desire to banish or destroy the United Nations, anti-Semitism, Negrophobia, isolationism, a passion for the repeal of the income tax, fear of poisoning by fluoridation of the water system, opposition to modernism in the churches.

Conservatism and the Media in Historical Perspective



William F. Buckley interviewing Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1971 on Firing Line


The Way of Improvement Leads Home correspondent reports are rolling in this morning!  Here is William Cossen‘s report on a fascinating session on American conservatism.  Read all of Cosseen’s posts from the AHA in Denver here.  –JF

On Friday, I attended an excellent AHA panel, “Supplying Conservatism: Media Infrastructure and the Rise of the New Right.”  This panel’s four papers shed new light on a subject of continued importance, especially given last year’s presidential campaign.

The first paper, Nicole Hemmer’s “‘Hatchets with Soft-Covered Sheaths’: Conservative Publishing and the Goldwater Campaign,” examined the birth of an early 1960s trend among conservatives toward independent publishing of paperback books.  Examples of such books include Phyllis Schlafly’s A Choice Not an Echo and John A. Stormer’s None Dare Call It Treason.  These books and similar titles were at the center of what Hemmer (the University of Virginia’s Miller Center) described as the creation of an unmediated, conservative, grassroots publishing movement.  Conservative bookstores played an important role, Hemmer argued, in serving as “alternative distribution systems” to mainstream publishers.  Why did these independent bookstores and books – which were printed in the millions – appear when they did in 1964?  Hemmer explained that many conservatives had become impatient with a GOP establishment that they felt had become too conciliatory and complacent in the face of growing liberalism.  This provided fertile ground for the rise of alternative conservative media.  “This isn’t just populism,” Hemmer argued.  “It’s populism plus.”

The second paper, Heather Hendershot’s “Firing Line: Steering Wheel and Compass of the Modern Conservative Image,” described William F. Buckley’s important role through his long-running television show Firing Line in making conservatism not only respectable but also “stylish.”  Hendershot (MIT) did a fine job weaving film clips from the show throughout her talk, reminding audience members just how entertaining and informative Buckley’s show was at its peak.  Hendershot explained that the show’s premise was to figuratively place liberals on the firing line.  Firing Line drew a diverse political audience.  Interestingly, many liberals would tune in and then walk away from the show with a deeper resolve to promote liberalism.  However, it also played a critical role in constructing the intellectual framework of the New Right.  Buckley’s urbane, witty manner, which was also evident in his magazine National Review, served, Hendershot argued, as “walking, talking proof of the insufficiency” of Richard Hofstadter’s paranoid style thesis.

The third paper, courtesy of my Penn State graduate school colleague Paul Matzko (congratulations on your recent graduation, Dr. Matzko!), “Polish Ham, Talk Radio, and the Rise of the New Right,” explored an early 1960s protest against and boycott of consumer items – especially Polish ham – originating in communist Eastern Europe and being sold in the United States.  This protest was led by conservative women and facilitated by religious radio broadcasters, groups often absent from general histories of the rise of the New Right.  Matzko explained that while figures like Buckley played important role in the growth of conservatism in the second half of the twentieth century, radio broadcasters may have had a far larger numerical impact in terms of audience size than Buckley’s National Review.  The rapid spread of right-wing radio stations in the 1950s and 1960s laid the organizational groundwork for the New Right alongside Buckley’s intellectual contributions to the movement, the latter of which were described in Hendershot’s paper.  This growth of conservative broadcasting, coupled with conservative women’s grassroots organizing, came together in response to President John F. Kennedy’s promotion of increased trade with communist countries.  Polish hams came under attack as almost apocalyptic symbols of an alleged communist takeover of the United States.  The ensuing boycott had a massive economic impact.  Matzko recounted a Polish embassy estimation that the protest led to a $5 million loss in trade with Poland – in just a few months in 1962 alone!  Matzko concluded that actions such as the Polish ham boycott were the “stuff” of which modern conservatism was made.  The protest, much like the independent book publishing described by Hemmer, revealed the power that hundreds of thousands of dedicated, non-establishment political figures could have in elections and in the formulation of public policy.

The panel’s final paper, Michael McVicar’s “Surveillance – Dossier – Exposé: The Infrastructure and Technique of the Anticommunist Blacklist,” provided a revealing glimpse into the nuts-and-bolts methods used by conservatives from the 1920s into the 1960s  to infiltrate, uncover, and eliminate what they perceived to be a growing communist threat in the United States, which dovetails nicely with Matzko’s paper.  McVicar (Florida State University) explained that early religious, anticommunist activists built on organizational techniques and classificatory charts pioneered by late nineteenth-century management experts to construct extensive databases that sought to connect liberal Protestants with communism and alleged communist front groups.  These archival materials have been underutilized by historians, and McVicar’s research promises to provide a more nuanced genealogy of the New Right reaching to the years immediately following the First World War.

President-elect Donald Trump’s electoral victory has clearly been on the minds of many historians attending this year’s AHA, serving as the subject of not one but two major conference sessions.  This panel on the New Right was not responding directly to the outcome of election, as it was organized much earlier than November.  Still, the speakers’ contributions to the subfield of New Right history provide many useful insights into how this political movement and its legatees have continued to thrive, and the panel itself was a model of thoughtful organization and planning that brought together four papers complementing each other exceptionally well.

The Author’s Corner with Markku Ruotsila

Markku Ruotsila is Associate Professor of North American Church History at the University of Helsinki in Finland. This interview is based on his new book, Fighting Fundamentalist: Carl McIntire and the Politicization of American Fundamentalism (Oxford University Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Fighting Fundamentalist?

MR: There was no biography of Carl McIntire in existence and I felt rather strongly that one was needed. It just wouldn’t do that this legendary figure, almost mythic to many of us all around the world, featured in most historians’ accounts only as a caricature or a clown. Since I have always been interested in the interface between religion, conservatism and anticommunism (which McIntire arguably embodied to a larger extent than any other person), I was eager to tackle the task as soon as I heard that Princeton Theological Seminary was ready to release their collection of McIntire materials. There are more than 600 archival boxes of McIntire’s correspondence and publications preserved in that collection, plus previously untapped data on almost every aspect of religion in the twentieth century that one can think of. I knew full well that McIntire was a larger-than-life figure, a symbol and a lightning rod in America’s ongoing culture wars, but I was determined to investigate as an outsider what was actually behind the symbol and whether the caricature was actually fair to the facts. It isn’t. Also, in many ways, the McIntire story brought together all the stands of my previous scholarship – I’ve studied all kinds of anticommunists, evangelicals, fundamentalists and conservatives for a long time – and it allowed me to tap into the expertise that I had gained on all the interrelated issues involved. I wasn’t about to do a traditional biography, rather one that illumined through the McIntire story much broader themes in the religious and political history of the modern United States.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Fighting Fundamentalist?

MR: Carl McIntire was the principal founding father of the Christian Right, a pivotal transitional and transformative figure in the history of the fundamentalist movement who more than any other person pioneered the public theologies, the means of public protest and the political alliances that came to cohere the contemporary Christian Right. It was under his inspiration and direction that the Christian Right began to emerge, not in the 1960s but in the 1930s, in that era’s fundamentalist and evangelical opposition to the New Deal that was later perpetuated under the rubric of Cold War anticommunism but actually always included the moral issues that then belatedly broke into national consciousness in the 1970s.

JF: Why do we need to read Fighting Fundamentalist?

MR: The issues covered – the rise and agenda of the Christian Right, faith-based apologias for free enterprise and the limited state, religious freedom, global and transnational activism by U.S. fundamentalists – remain exceedingly topical ones. I revisit them in a fashion that (I trust) is fresh and provides new perspectives (the book certainly provides new documentation that shatters the McIntire caricature in many respects). I have consulted more than fifty archival collections in three different countries for this book, including previously unreleased FBI files. Also, the issues covered are now increasingly transnational, and my book provides new documentation on how this came to be so, on the very important role played in the process by McIntire’s worldwide organization, the International Council of Christian Churches. Besides, this is a book that tells the intrinsically interesting story of a very colorful man, always absolutely authentic, utterly persistent over his sixty-year career in church and public life yet often quite unexpected in the twists and turns he took in pursuing his agenda. You will be entertained as well as informed by that life story.  Or how about this snippet as an enticement: Carl McIntire was actually the first person investigated, on the personal orders of J. Edgar Hoover himself, when the FBI started searching for the person responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The investigation was ordered personally by J. Edgar Hoover himself.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

MR: When an undergraduate history student in Finland I was fortunate enough to be taught by several leading U.S. historians who were visiting my institution as Fulbright professors. I suppose it was this experience that inspired me to choose between the two options in my mind – U.S. history of British history. Those were really the only two countries that interested me, since I already felt a rather strong cultural and philosophical affinity towards both. Becoming a historian was already settled in my mind and in the end I chose the country’s history that matters the most for us in the rest of the world today. I hope I can provide an outside perspective that isn’t suffused with this cultural anti-Americanism and a certain arrogance that unfortunately is so prevalent in much of Western Europe when it comes to narrating the United States.

JF: What is your next project?

MR: I am now working on a project on the global history of Christian fundamentalism during the Cold War. This investigates the fanning out into the rest of the world of U.S. fundamentalists, the message they purveyed, the networks they created and the reception they received from other conservative Christians elsewhere in the world. More specifically, I look at the networks of fellowship and mutual interchange that were created around the International Council of Christian Churches and affiliated agencies. There are no documented studies in existence that investigate the global activities and intercultural exchanges of that specific section of U.S. evangelicalism that has identified as fundamentalist, so I think a definite need exists for a study of this kind. U.S. fundamentalists had a much bigger impact on the history of many other countries (including my own) than most people realize, and in the process of exerting their influence they were themselves shaped in ways that we have only barely started.

JF: Thanks, Markku!

World Vision and Anti-Communism

Over at The Anxious Bench blog, David Swartz of Asbury University explains the anti-communist roots of World Vision, the Christian relief agency known for its child sponsorship programs and efforts at fighting poverty and hunger among children and their families around the world.  Swartz says that World Vision, founded in 1950, “operated from a posture of full-throated, flag-waving Christian Americanism.”  He calls it “an authentic creation of the Cold War.”

Here is a taste:

World Vision, established in 1950 both to help Korean orphans and to stem the expansion of communism in Korea, framed the conflict in apocalyptic terms. “Like a deadly red plague spreading out in all directions,” founder Bob Pierce wrote, “the massive force of Communism has spread over the globe until today it claims over one third of the world’s population.” Pierce produced popular films called The Red Plague and The Poison of Communism. In between caring for orphans, building hospitals and supporting American GIs, World Vision staged a huge evangelistic crusade in Seoul. Pierce framed the event dramatically: “With Communist jet bombers poised only twenty seconds from Seoul as these words are written, the Seoul Crusade might well prove to be one of the most strategic evangelistic efforts of our day.” For American evangelicals in the immediate postwar era, defeating communism and spreading the gospel were companion efforts. Each utilized a rhetoric of liberty. America would protect the human rights of peoples threatened by the tyranny of Marxism. Then they would be positioned to receive spiritual liberties offered by Christ.
World Vision moved quickly past its Cold War origins. Even before the demise of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, World Vision had de-Americanized as recipient nations from Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa became full partners of World Vision International. The dominance of the U.S. office was replaced by a United Nations-style confederacy. But that’s a post for another time.
This reminds me of another anti-communist crusader mentioned in Swartz’s post:

Philip Jenkins on "Witch Hunts" and Joe McCarthy

Philip Jenkins wants us to stop using the phrase “witch hunt” to describe American investigations into communism during the Cold War.  The phrase, he argues, should be removed from political discourse.  Here is a taste of his piece at Real Clear Religion:

To speak of a witch-hunt evokes a whole mythological system. In the original witch-hunts of sixteenth or seventeenth century Europe, thousands of innocent people were tried and punished for crimes of which they were not just innocent, but which were actively impossible, such as riding on the back of a goat to a personal meeting with Satan. Witch panics served to focus fears and anxieties within hungry and war-torn communities in desperate need of scapegoats.

Real witches, by definition, did not exist. 

And that is the implication of the phrase when applied to the twentieth century. When Congressional committees dragooned left-wing activists before them to answer humiliating questions, they were (we think) investigating imaginary crimes by non-existent witches. This picture is consecrated in American culture by Arthur Miller’s heavy-handed allegory, The Crucible. Once you accept the witch-hunt idea, you have a ready-made system of near-diabolic villains, and a heroic martyrology of saints and innocent sufferers.

In the Communist case, though, the “witches” really did exist, and genuinely posed a threat. For some thirty years now, we have had excellent historical studies by such scholars as Ronald Radosh, Allen Weinstein, John Earl Haynes and Hervey Klehr, and they demonstrate a picture of American Communism absolutely at variance with the myth. At its height in the 1930s, the US Communist Party had at least 75,000 open members, including many well placed in key strategic industries. There was also a penumbra of clandestine members, of unknown scale.