Court Evangelical Tony Perkins: “Donald Trump is the best president Christians have ever had.”

Perkins

Of all the court evangelicals, Tony Perkins talks the most about the contractual relationship between Donald Trump and conservative evangelical Christians.  Perkins supported Ted Cruz in the 2016 GOP primaries, but now he is all-in for Trump.

But Perkins has been clear about one thing: if Trump stops delivering on the issues he and other evangelicals hold dear, the president can expect to lose evangelical support in 2020.  So far that is not happening.

In a piece republished at Life News, Perkins calls Trump “the best president Christians have ever had.”  Perkins may be right, assuming that one defines “Christians” as political identity group of white,  right-wing, Christian nationalist, evangelical culture warriors.

There is nothing in Perkins’s piece that we haven’t seen before.  It all comes down to abortion and religious liberty.  I critiqued this two-pronged approach to politics in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

But this time around I was struck by how court evangelicals claim that they “didn’t need a preacher in the Oval Office.”  Here is Perkins:

Christians, the president repeated, “have never had a greater champion — not even close — than you have in the White House right now. Look at the record,” Trump urged. “We’ve done things that nobody thought was possible. We’re not only defending our constitutional rights, we’re also defending religion itself, which is under siege.” That’s important, he argued, because “America was not built by religion-hating socialists. America was built by churchgoing, God-worshiping, freedom-loving patriots.”

And those patriots, President Trump insisted, are the ones being attacked. “Faith-based schools, charities, hospitals, adoption agencies, pastors were systematically targeted by federal bureaucrats and ordered to stop following their beliefs,” he pointed out. That all changed when his teams at HHS, Justice, and Education got involved rolling back the waves of hostility aimed directly at men and women of faith. “The day I was sworn in, the federal government’s war on religion came to an abrupt end,” he said. “My administration will never stop fighting for Americans of faith,” Trump vowed. “We will restore the faith as the true foundation of American life.”

Maybe that, as Pastor Jentezen Franklin prayed, is what believers appreciate most about this administration. “…America didn’t need a preacher in the Oval Office,” he said, bowing his head. “It did not need a professional politician in the Oval Office. But it needed a fighter and a champion for freedom. Lord, that is exactly what we have.” And more than that, I thought, as I watched pastors lay their hands on the president, we have a fighter who isn’t ashamed of the people he’s fighting for. After all, when was the last time you saw a president of the United States from either party surrounded by faith leaders in a completely public and unscripted prayer? It’s rare, I assure you.

On that last sentence:

Obama Prayer

OBama praying

OBama in prayer

Bush prayer

Bush project prayer

Hillary-prayer_810_500_75_s_c1

I know Hillary has never been president, but this was too good to pass up

I am not sure if Perkins would count what is happening in these images as “public prayers.”  But I am reminded of Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

But I digress.

So what do the court evangelicals mean when they say “we didn’t need a preacher in the Oval Office?” They seem to be suggesting that they don’t need to have a person of Christian character in the office as long as he is delivering on Christian Right policy.  The court evangelicals are essentially saying that Trump’s character–the lies, the misogyny, the narcissism, the demonization of enemies–don’t matter.  “Sure he is a rough dude, and we don’t like some of his tweets, but look what he is doing for us!”  Or “At least he’s not Hillary!” (Christians are not supposed to hate, but they sure hate Hillary).

The court evangelicals have every right to think about politics in this way.  They are free to ignore Trump’s many indiscretions because he is delivering on the things they hold dear.  But if they are going to take this route they need to stop appealing to the Founding Fathers.  These framers of the Constitution understood that the leader of the United States needed to be a person of character.

Here is James Madison in Federalist 57: “The aim of every political Constitution is or ought to be first to obtain 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, while they continue to hold their public trust.”

Supporters of Donald Trump must ask if he has the “wisdom” to lead us, the commitment to the “common good” (not just his so-called “base”), and the character to make us a more “virtuous” people. If the president does not measure-up in these areas, the founders believed that he should not be leading the American republic.

Here is Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 68:

Talents 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 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. 

“Low intrigue” and the “little arts of popularity.”  It almost sounds like Hamilton wrote this with Trump in mind.

According to the Founding Fathers, Trump is unfit for office.   The court evangelicals are supporting an unfit president and breaking with the views of the men who supposedly founded a Christian nation.  But look at the bright side: at least we get to say “Merry Christmas” again!

Christianity Today’s Former Editor Mark Galli Debates Court Evangelical Richard Land on Boston Public Radio

Galli

The conversation occurred on WBUR-Boston.  Listen here.

Some of you may recall that Richard Land was behind the editorial that led to the resignation of its political editor Napp Nazworth.

A few takeaways:

  • Galli says he had been planning the Christianity Today editorial for “five or ten minutes” before he wrote it.
  • Galli has a history of trying to get evangelicals on the Left and Right to talk to one another. But this editorial was different. He said “we crossed the rubicon.”  He needed to speak out against Trump
  • Galli responds to his evangelical critics: “They pass this off, when they do respond … many pass it off, and say, ‘Well, he’s fighting for the causes we care about. And if he has a few rough edges, we can live with that.’ And they don’t seem to recognize that a man who calls his political enemies crazy, and lying, and disgraced, and losers, and crooked, and phony and fake — and does this day in and day out, often many times a day — they don’t seem to recognize that he is exacerbating the culture of contempt, which was already well under way before he became president. I mean, Hillary Clinton called many Americans a basket of deplorables. But it’s no question that President Trump has taken that to a new level. And the fact that they don’t connect that with the biblical verses about holding one’s tongue — and how dangerous the tongue can be, and how powerful words are, and how we have to be guarded in our speaking — they seem to have completely made a disconnect between those things. And to call that type of language ‘rough edges’ is to miss the gravity of what’s going on.”
  • Galli does not believe that pro-Trumpers are fearful.  Meghna Chakrabarti pushes back.  Galli responds by saying that the left is also fearful.  This sounds a lot like John Wilson, Galli’s former colleague.
  • Does evangelical support of Trump hurt their Christian witness?  Galli says that there is a LOT of anecdotal evidence to suggest that it is.  He references the many letters he has received in response to his editorial.
  • Galli says that the word “evangelical” is now just a political world.  It has become useless.
  • Galli responds to Franklin Graham’s claim that he has “lost his mind.” He defends the idea that Christianity Today is still following Billy Graham’s founding vision.
  • Land enters the conversation and criticizes Galli for his “elitism.” He praises Donald Trump’s policies on abortion and religious liberty.  Land believes that the best way to reduce the number of abortion is to elect the right president.  I am not sure this is true.
  • Galli explains what he means by “elitism.”  He didn’t use the term in previous writings for the purpose of looking down his nose at evangelical Trump voters.  He was just stating a fact. Indeed, Galli is correct here.  Most of Trump’s evangelical support does come from the working class.
  • Land says that most Southern Baptists were not voting for Donald Trump in 2016.  They were voting against Hillary Clinton.  Land then turns the conversation again to abortion.
  • Galli says that pro-Trump evangelicals fail to “hold Trump’s feet to the fire” when he advances a “culture of contempt” with his rhetoric.  Such a culture, Galli says, is detrimental to the nation and the church.  Land responds.  Says that the “culture of contempt” did not start with Trump.  He refers to rhetoric by Obama and Hillary Clinton.  This, of course, is a logical fallacy.  Barack Obama is no longer President.  Hillary Clinton is not president.  Galli is not writing about Obama and Hillary.  He is writing about Trump.
  • An evangelical caller and mother is upset that evangelical Christians are not coming out and supporting Trump’s “bullying.”  Land responds by saying Obama and Hillary were also bullies. He seems to suggest that there is a moral equivalence between Trump and Obama/Hillary on this issue.

It’s the Eve of Impeachment and the Demons are Back

Trump Graham

Some of you may remember when Fox News fired conservative radio personality Todd Starnes for saying that Democrats worship a god who supports child sacrifice.  Today, court evangelical Franklin Graham came on his new show to talk about the impeachment of Donald Trump.  Listen here.

A few highlights:

  • Graham starts out with some American “history.”  He says about Trump: “there has never been a president in history that has been attacked like he has from day 1.”  Really?  What about this.  Or this?
  • He once again says that the opposition to Trump, specifically the women’s march on the day after the election, is “almost like it’s demonic.”  Starnes agrees with him: “I have never seen such hate and such anger…there is something unnatural about all of this.”  Graham then asks Americans to pray in order stop these demonic attacks.  I would have to go back and look more closely, but I can’t recall this kind of spiritual warfare language ever used by any mainstream evangelical figure in American history.
  • Graham has a short memory.  He said that when Barack Obama was elected president,  Americans all “hoped he did well.”  We could spend a lot of time contesting this, but I just want to point out that Donald Trump, the man who will be impeached tomorrow, did not hope Obama “did well.”  In fact, he questioned his citizenship.
  • Graham openly admits that Trump committed a quid pro quo.  He thinks what Trump did was right.  Graham goes so far as to say that Trump was withholding aid from Ukraine to stop the Ukrainian government from giving the aid to the Bidens.
  • Graham believes that all the blame for our divided country rests with the Democrats.  How is this man of God incapable of seeing Trump’s role in such division?  It is like he is brainwashed.
  • Graham says that God’s judgement is coming upon the United States because of abortion and LGBTQ (he compares this to Sodom and Gomorrah).  These are longtime Christian Right talking points.  His father used to say similar things about communism.

Come on Rick Perry, is This Really How You Should Treat God’s “Chosen One?”

Obama Perry

Recently Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said that Donald Trump was “the chosen one.”  Perhaps this explains why he serves in Trump’s cabinet and has never said a negative word about him in public.  But in the same interview with Fox News, Perry also said Barack Obama was God’s “chosen one.”  So I thought I would look a little deeper into what Perry thought about Obama, the “chosen one.”  Here is what I found:

Perry wanted to sue Obama for granting relief to undocumented immigrants.

Perry called Obama “president zero.”

Perry refused to shake Obama’s hand.

Perry declined to say that Obama was born in the United States.

Perry claimed that Obama “doesn’t reflect our founding fathers.”

Perry said that “Obama has made the world less safe.”

Perry claimed that Obama “doctored” the unemployment rate.

Perry connected “gays in the military” to Obama’s “war on religion.”

Perry said Obama was “privileged” and “never really had work for anything.”

Perry produced this apocalyptic attack ad on Obama

Perry took Obama out of context and called his words “pathetic.”

Now, Rick, is this any way to treat God’s “chosen one?” 😉

Obama’s Legacy?

white-house-staff-obama-speech

Is it healthcare? The Paris Climate Agreement?  His election as the first black president?  Something else?  Over at Dissent, Corey Robin reviews eight books on the Obama legacy.  Many of these books are written by Obama staffers.  Robin’s calls them the “Obamanauts” and suggests that they may be Obama’s legacy.

Here is a taste:

Since the 2016 election, many members of the Obama administration have written their memoirs in the hope of defining that legacy. In addition, more than a hundred men and women who worked in and around the White House have given their reminiscences to Brian Abrams, who has composed a remarkably fluid oral history of the Obama years. We’ve not yet heard from the man himself. While it’s not unprecedented for the president’s men and women to get the first word, the effect of his silence and their volubility is to decenter a presidency that, more than most, was centered on one man and his words. Obama had an uncanny ability to make sense of his place in history, to narrate what it was that he was doing. His politics had its limits, but they were often, and often knowingly, self-imposed. No matter how circumscribed the view, Obama managed to conjure a sense of what lay beyond it. With one exception, none of his people has that sense of time or place. They’re bound by a perimeter that is not of their making and that lies beyond their ken.

At the same time, not only do the Obamanauts wish to salvage Obama’s legacy from Donald Trump; they also believe Obama’s legacy can save us from Donald Trump. “My hope in writing this book,” says Dan Pfeiffer, who ran communications in the White House, is that “if we learn the right lessons” from Obama, “we can ensure that Donald Trump is an aberration.” That puts Obama’s legacy at a double disadvantage: defended by some of its least persuasive advocates and defined by what it is not. Burdened by a future he had a hand in making but no intention of creating, Obama gets reimagined in these memoirs and reminiscenses in light of everything he sought to avoid: the destructiveness of the president who came after him, and the irresponsibility of the Republicans who came before him and dogged him throughout his time in office. Instead of a clear outline of the man, we get the shadow of his enemies. That’s not fair to Obama, but as he’s the one who chose these people to speak for him while he was in office, they are the ones who’ve chosen to speak for him when he’s out. So it will remain, until he writes his memoirs.

The Obamanauts have an argument that they think can be used to defeat the Republicans. It is an argument that sets out what liberals and Democrats should be saying, and how they should be saying it, in the next election and beyond. It is part sense—about economic policy, foreign policy, and so on—and part sensibility: about norms, the presidency, and how our public life should be conducted. Because the sense is so thin in these memoirs, the sensibility winds up mattering more. Which is probably for the best. For it’s that sensibility that gives us the clearest view of what Obamaism, beneath and beyond Obama, was all about. It’s the style of leading sectors in the Democratic Party, currently embattled against the left, though we hear little mention of that battle here. But most of all, it’s that style that answers the question: What is Obama’s legacy? For better or worse, and at least for now, it’s the Obamanauts themselves.

Read the entire piece here.

When a President Visits Those Who Survived a Mass Shooting…

Here is Trump in an El Paso hospital:

CNN also has coverage here:

Back in 2017, Joshua DuBois, head of Barack Obama’s Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships from 2009-2013, described Obama’s meetings with families of the children killed during the 2012 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School i n Newtown, CT.

Here is he wrote:

That news began a weekend of prayer and numbness, which I awoke from on Saturday only to receive the word that the president would like me to accompany him to Newtown. He wanted to meet with the families of the victims and then offer words of comfort to the country at an interfaith memorial service.

I left early to help the advance team—the hardworking folks who handle logistics for every event—set things up, and I arrived at the local high school where the meetings and memorial service would take place. We prepared seven or eight classrooms for the families of the slain children and teachers, two or three families to a classroom, placing water and tissues and snacks in each one. Honestly, we didn’t know how to prepare; it was the best we could think of.

The families came in and gathered together, room by room. Many struggled to offer a weak smile when we whispered, “The president will be here soon.” A few were visibly angry—so understandable that it barely needs to be said—and were looking for someone, anyone, to blame. Mostly they sat in silence.

I went downstairs to greet President Obama when he arrived, and I provided an overview of the situation. “Two families per classroom . . . The first is . . . and their child was . . . The second is . . . and their child was . . . We’ll tell you the rest as you go.”

The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son. . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat—for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss. After each classroom, we would go back into those fluorescent hallways and walk through the names of the coming families, and then the president would dive back in, like a soldier returning to a tour of duty in a worthy but wearing war. We spent what felt like a lifetime in those classrooms, and every single person received the same tender treatment. The same hugs. The same looks, directly in their eyes. The same sincere offer of support and prayer.

The staff did the preparation work, but the comfort and healing were all on President Obama. I remember worrying about the toll it was taking on him. And of course, even a president’s comfort was woefully inadequate for these families in the face of this particularly unspeakable loss. But it became some small measure of love, on a weekend when evil reigned.

And the funny thing is—President Obama has never spoken about these meetings. Yes, he addressed the shooting in Newtown and gun violence in general in a subsequent speech, but he did not speak of those private gatherings. In fact, he was nearly silent on Air Force One as we rode back to Washington, and has said very little about his time with these families since. It must have been one of the defining moments of his presidency, quiet hours in solemn classrooms, extending as much healing as was in his power to extend. But he kept it to himself—never seeking to teach a lesson based on those mournful conversations, or opening them up to public view.

Jesus teaches us that some things—the holiest things, the most painful and important and cherished things—we are to do in secret. Not for public consumption and display, but as acts of service to others, and worship to God. For then, “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you,” perhaps not now, but certainly in eternity. We learned many lessons in Newtown that day; this is one I’ve kept closely at heart.

Read the entire piece here.

This is What a Presidential Speech Looks Like in the Wake of El Paso and Dayton

Obama immigration

From Barack Obama’s Facebook page today:

Michelle and I grieve with all the families in El Paso and Dayton who endured these latest mass shootings. Even if details are still emerging, there are a few things we already know to be true.

First, no other nation on Earth comes close to experiencing the frequency of mass shootings that we see in the United States. No other developed nation tolerates the levels of gun violence that we do. Every time this happens, we’re told that tougher gun laws won’t stop all murders; that they won’t stop every deranged individual from getting a weapon and shooting innocent people in public places. But the evidence shows that they can stop some killings. They can save some families from heartbreak. We are not helpless here. And until all of us stand up and insist on holding public officials accountable for changing our gun laws, these tragedies will keep happening.

Second, while the motivations behind these shootings may not yet be fully known, there are indications that the El Paso shooting follows a dangerous trend: troubled individuals who embrace racist ideologies and see themselves obligated to act violently to preserve white supremacy. Like the followers of ISIS and other foreign terrorist organizations, these individuals may act alone, but they’ve been radicalized by white nationalist websites that proliferate on the internet. That means that both law enforcement agencies and internet platforms need to come up with better strategies to reduce the influence of these hate groups.

But just as important, all of us have to send a clarion call and behave with the values of tolerance and diversity that should be the hallmark of our democracy. We should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments; leaders who demonize those who don’t look like us, or suggest that other people, including immigrants, threaten our way of life, or refer to other people as sub-human, or imply that America belongs to just one certain type of people. Such language isn’t new – it’s been at the root of most human tragedy throughout history, here in America and around the world. It is at the root of slavery and Jim Crow, the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. It has no place in our politics and our public life. And it’s time for the overwhelming majority of Americans of goodwill, of every race and faith and political party, to say as much – clearly and unequivocally.

It’s almost as if Obama, out of love of country, could not just stand by and let Trump have the last word.

On Whataboutism and Moral Equivalence in the Age of Trump

trump-condemn-hatred-shootings-racism

Tony, a regular commentator at this blog, an evangelical Christian, and a lawyer, writes in response to my post on Trump’s speech this morning (I copied it from the comments section below):

“Trump needs the teleprompter because he does not possess the moral resources to be able to speak extemporaneously or off-the-cuff about shootings like this. He needs others to give him the words of empathy, sympathy, compassion, righteous indignation–the stuff that comes from the soul of a virtuous man.”

This is an amazing critique — let’s accept, solely for the sake of argument, that it is true — given that the guy who preceded Trump, and about whom John had nary a negative word to say, and who John deems infinitely more virtuous in every way — was wedded to his teleprompter. The most carefully scripted president we have ever had. In good times and bad. But that was then, when habitual, almost comical reliance upon other people’s words (and he sure could deliver them) told us nothing about one’s soul, and this is now, when it signifies a sucking moral vacuum.

The selectivity of the dudgeon is its most noteworthy characteristic.

And let’s be clear: John’s objection is not really to the “pathetic” speech. It’s to Trump himself. Meaning: Churchill could pen the oratory, and John would still object, because Trump is unworthy to deliver it. This is precisely what John is attacking when he dismisses Trump’s appeal to bipartisanship and his comments about human dignity. Those would be acceptable words from anyone else, but not from Trump, because his malevolent character renders them clanging gongs and clashing cymbals. The argument is: no matter how worthy or aspirational the sentiment, the words are empty coming from this man, and must be rejected.

Fair enough. But then let’s stop pretending that there is anything — literally, anything (other than: “I am a wicked, orange man, and I resign.”) — Trump could say which would satisfy John. So why even the pretense of evaluating what has been said? Simpler to write: “Trump gave a speech. I did not listen to it, for there was no need. It was by definition awful, noxious, gormless and without any redeeming quality, because Trump uttered the words.”

John has become the mirror image of those who found every spoken word, every mannerism, every single thing about Obama — including his heinous lack of lapel flag pins — teeth-grindingly intolerable. Yes, yes, I get it: their loathing was based on vile –Isms and without basis, whereas the all-pervading, Manichean Trump animus is entirely justified.

I decided to post about this comment because Tony’s remarks allow me to clarify a few things.  Here is how I responded to Tony:

“Here is where we differ Tony. You presuppose some kind of equivalency between Trump and all other politicians. This is why you are constantly saying “Well, what about Obama?” (And this is why I consistently reject this whataboutism). You believe that Trump and Obama (or any other recent president) are playing on the same moral field and thus must be evaluated in the same way.  I do not. Trump has sacrificed the moral integrity necessary to deliver a speech like he did today. I agree with Jeff from Maryland when he says: ‘Trump could recite the Gettysburg Address’ and I would not believe him.

So Tony–at what point does a person lose all credibility in your mind? At what point does a person’s actions damage his or her attempts to deliver moral rhetoric to a public audience? I admit that different people will come to different conclusions about when a public figure has reached this level, but I find it hard to believe that it would not happen at some point. I have reached my point of no return with Trump. You, apparently, have not.”

What Presidents Are Saying Today

Barack Obama:

Donald Trump:

 

What Do Steven Spielberg, Kate Capshaw Barack Obama, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, David Blight, and 25 Cent Wings Have in Common?

BlightThis:

Former President Barack Obama was meeting with Steven Spielberg on Monday night, sources exclusively told Page Six, months after Obama’s production company with wife, Michelle, unveiled a slate of films with Netflix.

Obama and the Oscar-winner were at upscale seafood eatery Marea, spies said.

“Spielberg walked through the front and no one noticed,” said the source, while Obama arrived through a side entrance.

“They were with a group — with lots of Secret Service,” said the source. “But it was still pretty low-key with no disruptions to other diners.”

The Obamas have seven planned Netflix projects via their Higher Ground Productions, including an adaptation of David W. Blight’s 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” as well as a series called “Bloom,” set in the fashion world of New York after WWII.

In 2015, it was reported that Spielberg — whom Obama awarded a Medal of Freedom the same year — was helping the ex-pol create a “narrative” for post-presidential life….

On Monday, the director’s wife, Kate Capshaw, was spotted having 25-cent wings with Bruce Springsteen and wife, Patti Scialfa, at Henry at Life Hotel.

Read the whole story at Page Six

 

*The Atlantic* Asks: “Why is Trump suddenly talking about God?”

Here is a taste of writer David Graham’s piece:

Donald Trump is finding religion. Or at least, religion is finding its way into his remarks and his campaign’s rhetoric to an unprecedented extent.

On Thursday, the president celebrated the National Day of Prayer at the White House, and he said the Almighty had helped him persevere through the ordeal of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“People say, ‘How do you get through that whole stuff? How do you get through those witch hunts and everything else?’” Trump said, turning to Vice President Pence. “And you know what we do, Mike? We just do it, right? And we think about God.”

In a variation on his claims about a “war on Christmas,” Trump also claimed that Americans are referring to the Divine more frequently.

“One of the things that Mike and I were discussing just a little while ago—people are so proud to be using that beautiful word, God, and they’re using the word God again, and they’re not hiding from it,” he said. “They’re not being told to take it down, and they’re not saying we can’t honor God. In God we trust. So important.”

Read the entire piece here.

A few quick thoughts on this piece and Thursday’s National Day of Prayer in general

  1. Trump is talking about God because he is required to do so at the National Prayer Breakfast.  This is a day to keep his conservative evangelical base in line.
  2. I disagree with Graham about the “unprecedented extent” in which Trump is now talking about God. He’s been doing this since the campaign.  There is little about what he said on Thursday that is new.  He has been throwing bones to the court evangelicals and their followers since 2015.  This, of course, is all chronicled in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.
  3. Actually, if you compare what Trump said about God on Thursday with what Barack Obama said at national prayer breakfasts during his administration you will find that Obama’s remarks are deeper, more profound, and more seriously Christian than Trump’s. It is true that Obama did not always give the National Day of Prayer the kind of attention that Trump gives it, but Obama did offer statements about prayer and religious freedom that, at least to me, seem more fitting for a president of the United States.

The Fox News Crowd Doesn’t Like Obama’s Use of the Phrase “Easter Worshippers”

Here is Obama’s tweet in the wake of the attacks on Sri Lankan Christians who were worshipping on Easter Sunday:

Apparently, some conservatives have a problem with Obama’s use of the phrase “Easter worshippers.”  Here is Ruth Graham at Slate:

To most people, former President Barack Obama’s tweet about the brutal terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka on Sunday read as standard post-presidential material: correct, sensible, and essentially anodyne.

But then some right-wingers noticed that other prominent figures on the left, including Hillary Clinton and Julián Castro, had used the phrase Easter worshippers too. Soon, a suspicion arose: “Easter worshippers” is a euphemism used by “people who don’t want to say ‘Christians.’ ” “We’re actually called Christians not ‘Easter worshippers’ wouldn’t hurt to maybe just say that,” a National Review writer tweeted. Obama and friends “could not bring themselves to identify the victims of the attacks as ‘Christians,’ ” Breitbart huffed, deeming the phrase a “Sympathy Snub.” An op-ed in the Washington Times called Obama and Clinton “anti-Christian.”

Some went further, interpreting the term Easter worshipper as a false claim that Christians worship the holiday of Easter. “We don’t worship Easter,” Laura Ingraham tweeted. “We worship Jesus Christ.” Others, including One America News Network host Jack Posobiec, claimed to have never heard the term Easter worshipper before Sunday.

Read the rest here.

And then there is this:

Easter worshippers

Historian John Haas tells us what is really going on in this picture.  Here is his recent Facebook post:

Can’t imagine anything better designed to advance the Kingdom of God.

Let us count the ways this is so Christian:

a) uses claims about Christianity for partisan political purposes

b) leverages a petty complaint in the service of self-interested grievances

c) claims one of the seven deadly sins as a constituent characteristic for the movement

Obama Sends a Warning to American Progressives

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In a speech in Germany, Barack Obama warned progressives in the Democratic Party to avoid becoming a “circular firing squad.”  Here is a taste of Martin Pengelly’s article at The Guardian:

Barack Obama warned on Saturday that US progressives risk creating a “circular firing squad” at a time when prospective presidential candidates are competing fiercely against each other to run against Donald Trump.

The former president was speaking in Berlin, at an Obama Foundation event.

“One of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States,” he said, “maybe it’s true here as well, is a certain kind of rigidity where we say, ‘Uh, I’m sorry, this is how it’s going to be’ and then we start sometimes creating what’s called a ‘circular firing squad’, where you start shooting at your allies because one of them has strayed from purity on the issues.

“And when that happens, typically the overall effort and movement weakens.”

Read the rest here.

Who does Obama have in mind?  Bernie?  Or perhaps he is responding to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez”s comment that moderation is “meh.”

Thoughts on Mike Pompeo and Queen Esther

Here is Mike Pompeo talking with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN):

Sarah Pulliam Bailey gets us up to speed at The Washington Post.  Read here piece here.

Here are some really random thoughts about Pompeo’s remarks:

The fact that CBN asked Pompeo to compare Trump to Queen Esther in interesting in and of itself.  Let’s be clear:  Pompeo was responding to a question, not offering-up his religious views on Middle East foreign policy in an unsolicited fashion.

CBN has a long history of trying to connect biblical prophecy to developments in the Middle East.  The people at CBN believe, along with millions of other evangelicals, that God still has a special place in His plan for the nation of Israel.  The establishment of the state of Israel will be a sign that Jesus Christ’s return is coming.  This theology is often described as dispensationalism.  Those at CBN understand their mission in terms of 1 Chronicles 12:32.  In this Old Testament passage, David builds an army at Hebron to overthrow King Saul.  It says that “the men from Issachar” were men “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do….”  Today CBN wants to “understand the times” so that it can help evangelicals win the culture war and shape foreign policy.

Pompeo’s answer reveals that he also believes God still has a plan for Israel.  His answer makes it clear that he favors a pro-Israel foreign policy partially for dispensational or “end times” reasons.  It does not surprise me that he would see Iran as Haman and Esther as Trump.  What is most telling is that Pompeo is not running for office (like Trump) and thus does not have to appeal to evangelicals to shore-up an electoral base for 2020.   Unlike Trump, he seems to really believe this stuff.

One illustration of the evangelical love of Israel comes from Peter Lillback, the President of Westminster Theological Seminary, an evangelical Reformed seminary in the Philadelphia area. In 2011, Lillback wrote an entire book arguing that George Washington was a supporter of Israel.  Here is one of his arguments: “If there had been no George Washington, there would have been no American Independence.  If there had been no American Independence there would have been no United States.  If there had been no United States, there would have no super-power to support the existence of Israel.  If there has been no super-power to support Israel, there would be no Israel.”  He then concludes that George Washington was part of God’s plan for “the destiny of Israel.”

Trump has also been compared to King Cyrus. Some evangelicals make this comparison metaphorically—Trump is a pagan ruler who set the evangelical church free from the captivity of the Obama administration much in the same way that Cyrus, a pagan ruler, set the Israelites free from Babylonian bondage.  Others apply the Cyrus example to Israel.  Mike Evans, a Christian Zionist, has said that God used Trump to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem much in the same way God used Cyrus to advance biblical prophecy as related to a future for Israel.  I wrote extensively about this in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

It is worth noting that Harry Truman was also hailed as a King Cyrus after the state of Israel was established in 1948.

Back in 2012, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu gave Barack Obama a copy of the Book of Esther.  It was a clear message that Obama, according to Netanyahu, was NOT acting as an Esther in his support of Iran over Israel.

Many evangelicals compared Sarah Palin to Queen Esther when she was John McCain’s vice-presidential candidate in 2008.  (She would save Christian America from the threat of an Obama administration and secularism.

Abraham Lincoln was compared to Queen Esther for freeing the slaves.  (He was also compared to Moses).

And that brings my random thought to an end.  🙂

Polarization and Partisanship in Contemporary America (#AHA19)

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Matt Lakemacher of Woodland Middle School in Gurnee, IL is back with another post from the annual meeting of the American Historical Association going on this weekend in Chicago.  You can read all his posts here.  –JF

Could there be a better moment for a revival of the 1976 film “Network” on the Broadway stage, starring the man (Bryan Cranston) who played such television white everymen as Hal on Malcom in the Middle and Walter White on Breaking Bad, than during the so-called “age of Trump,” what Ed Stetzer has dubbed “The Age of Outrage?”  As the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin rightly noted, “no predictor of the future – not even Orwell – has ever been as right as Chayefsky was when he wrote ‘Network.’”  So, it’s interesting and perhaps no coincidence, that in their new book Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974, Princeton historians Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer pick up the story of the fracturing of an America that’s “mad as hell and … not going to take this anymore” only two years before Howard Beale (Peter Finch) delivered that famous movie line.

Today Kruse chaired, and Zelizer sat on, a panel that explored the topic of “Divided Loyalties in the United States: Polarization and Partisanship in Contemporary America” at AHA19.  Nicole Hemmer kicked things off with a simple premise: polarization might have a negative connotation for most people, but it hasn’t been bad for everyone.  Over the last several decades, for conservatives and the Republican party, polarization has worked.  Hemmer gave two reasons for this strategy’s success on the right – an increased reliance on the politics of “playing to the base” (something Reagan, Bush 41, and even, at first, Gingrich did not overtly do) and a powerfully ideological media platform (i.e. talk radio starting with Limbaugh and then the Bealeistic rage-machine that became FOX News).

Timothy Stewart-Winter pushed back against the narrative that the United States is more divided today than it ever was, and did so through the prism of LGBTQ rights.  He deconstructed two common Obama tropes: first, that the 43rd president accomplished nothing after November of 2010 and, second, that he failed to remake the America of blue states and red states into a United States in the image of his 2004 DNC speech. According to Stewart-Winter, “what Lyndon Baines Johnson was for Civil Rights, Barack Obama was for gay rights.”  The man who hadn’t even heard of the Stonewall Riots when he ran for the Senate included a reference to it in his second inaugural address, after declaring his support for marriage equality at the same point in his political career that both President Clinton and Bush 43 had tacked to the right on that same issue.  Said Stewart-Winter, “Obama modeled for many Americans, especially men, what it means to change your mind.”  As polling continues to indicate and Stewart-Winter effectively argued, the nation changed their minds with President Obama, and the Trump Administration’s recent attempts to limit the rights of transgender people seem unlikely to reverse that cultural shift.

According to Leah Wright Rigueur, “political polarization is racial polarization.”  She placed the origins of America’s current political climate a little earlier than Kruse and Zelizer did, in the Goldwater campaign of 1964 and the subsequent conservative ascendancy within the GOP.  She powerfully made the connection from Goldwater to Reagan when she stated, “If Goldwater rang the death knell for black Republicans, Ronald Reagan dug the grave and buried the bodies.”  Wright Rigueur also made an effective argument for the idea that despite the entrenchment of partisanship in recent years, many black voters (especially pre and post Obama) are often voters without a party.  Most can’t conceive of voting Republican but feel that the Democratic party ignores them or takes them for granted.  The black vote (or absence of it), just might have been the decisive factor in the 2016 presidential election.

Zelizer concluded by agreeing with Hemmer’s thesis that the political right has benefited immensely from polarization since the 1970s, but added that the left has been just as susceptible to using divide and conquer strategies and ideologically-driven media platforms.  The difference has been, according to him, that liberals just haven’t been very good at using either of those tactics successfully.  Like Stewart-Winter, Zelizer also countered the idea that there’s been an overall shift to the right among Americans.  The progress made in feminism and gay rights belie that narrative.  As Zelizer noted, however, “we have left many questions unanswered since the 1970s.”  The answers to those questions animated culture warriors like Jerry Falwell Sr. and Phyllis Schlafly in their day and that mantle has been taken up by Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham today.  When seen as a desperate, rear-guard action to save White Christian America, perhaps it makes sense why in the age of Trump, some people are still “mad as hell and … not going to take this anymore.”

Thanks, Matt!