Obama in South Africa: “People just make stuff up”
It also looks like I am not the only one talking about “strongman” politics:
Obama in South Africa: “People just make stuff up”
It also looks like I am not the only one talking about “strongman” politics:
Last night, after I spoke about how white conservative evangelicals too often privilege fear over hope, a friend noted that Trump’s evangelical supporters seem pretty “hopeful” right now. Trump is delivering on the Supreme Court. He has moved the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. He is trying to do something about religious liberty (at least as white evangelicals understand it). For a group of evangelicals who see political and cultural engagement in terms of winning the culture wars, Trump has been anointed for such a time as this.
I thought about my friend’s comment this morning as I read Laurie Premack‘s review of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, published at The Conversation. Here is a taste of her very fair review:
Do you remember that Barack Obama poster? The one of him looking into the middle distance, as if gazing upon a future only he could see, the word “HOPE” spelled out across his chest in blue – the colour of clear days and sunny skies? It was in Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic Conference – the one that catapulted him to the presidency four years later – that he first made the audacious promise that the country had the power to choose hope over cynicism. Farewell to the grim ironies of the 20th century, hello to the brave promise of the new millennium.
But Obama’s hope was always a vague one: something to do with slaves, immigrants, soldiers and mill workers. He said it was “something more substantial” than “blind optimism” but didn’t go into the details. It was simply what you harness in the face of difficulty and uncertainty. The thing that keeps you believing that the future will be better than today.
The general public is accustomed to thinking about hope in political terms. That is the American eschatology (the belief in the nation’s ultimate destiny) – that through democracy the country will enter the promised land. Indeed, hope is, at its essence, faith in the future. And people tend to talk about hope, as Obama famously did, assuming a shared understanding of what it means. It is not a loaded term. It is a light one – bright, buoyant, chirpy.
Or so I thought. John Fea, author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump has a different take. For him – an evangelical historian of American politics – hope is not the vague optimism of Obama, but the precise hope of Christian theology. Hope rests on the truth of Jesus Christ. It is, as Christian political philosopher Glenn Tinder described it, a divine gift “anchored in eternity”. There can be no real hope without God.
Read the rest here.
Lisa Allardice of The Guardian recently spoke with Pultizer Prize-winning novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson. There is a some stuff in this piece on fear, democracy, and history. She also talks about Donald Trump. Here is a taste:
Of Trump’s predecessor she says: “He’s very gentlemanly, very thoughtful, very funny.” They have kept in touch since he left office. She wrote to him expressing her worries about Hillary Clinton as a candidate, and he is consulting her on preparations for his library in Chicago. “There are jokes about the Trump library,” she says mischievously. “Because there won’t be any books in there.” But what if the current incumbent of the White House decided he, too, would like to sit down with one of his country’s greatest writers? “I would like to get a look at him,” she muses. “Everybody has seen every cartoon – those little hands, his long neckties, his strange bald spot and all the rest – but when all is said and done, he is a human being and it would be sort of interesting just simply to talk with him.” She would hate anyone to think it “was any gesture of approval”, although she concedes of his recent conversations with Kim Jong-un, “I like it when people talk to each other. I don’t care why they do it.”Perhaps the most engaging of all the essays is the last, “Slander”, an unusually personal reflection on her sometimes difficult relationship with her mother, who, until her death, aged 92, she would speak to for nearly an hour every day. “My mother lived out the end of her fortunate life in a state of bitterness and panic, never having had the slightest brush with any experience that would confirm her in these emotions, except, of course, Fox News,” she writes drily. Her mother was “scary and wonderful. Taller than me,” Robinson recalls now. “I realised that there was a great intensity about her. It was almost as if there was a kind of selfness about her that really kept her vividly alive for a long time, which I always found quite beautiful.”
Read the entire piece here.
George W. Bush instituted the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Barack Obama continued the initiative with the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Now Donald Trump is getting into the act. According to Adelle Banks’s reporting at Religion News Service, this new faith-based initiative will have a decidedly court evangelical flavor.
A taste of Banks’s article:
Johnnie Moore, a minister and public relations consultant who serves as an unofficial spokesman for a group of evangelicals that often advises Trump, said the new initiative takes an approach different from the previous ones.
“Ordering every department of the federal government to work on faith based partnerships — not just those with faith offices — represents a widespread expansion of a program that has historically done very effective work and now can do even greater work,” he said.
Florida megachurch pastor Paula White, one of the key evangelical advisers to the president, also cheered the new initiative.
“I could not be more proud to stand with President Trump as he continues to stand shoulder to shoulder with communities of faith,” she said. “This order is a historic action, strengthening the relationship between faith and government in the United States and the product will be countless, transformed lives.”
Moore and White, of course, are both prominent court evangelicals. It appears that their are few details thus far. Stay tuned.
Read Banks’s entire piece here.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Falwell Jr. is on the Trump payroll.
Falwell Jr. quotes “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Fair enough. Hey Liberty University students, did you hear that? I am sure the person in charge of student discipline at Liberty does not operate this way.
Falwell Jr. also says that only president who was “above reproach” was Jimmy Carter. I agree that Carter was above approach, but what about Barack Obama?
Joan Baez at The Atlantic:
A recent poll has found that almost fifty percent of evangelicals say a Donald Trump recommendation would make them more likely to vote for a candidate. Meanwhile, fifty-four percent of evangelicals said a Hillary Clinton endorsement would make them less likely to vote for a candidates.
Here is the list of evangelicals’ most-trusted celebrity endorsers:
Here is the list of evangelical’s least-trusted celebrity endorsers:
Kate Shellnut has a story on this survey at Christianity Today. Read it here.
A few quick observations:
Check out Michael Wear‘s piece at Christian Today: “What Barack Obama’s Christianity can teach white evangelicals“. Wear is the author of Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House and was the director of faith outreach for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
President Obama came into Office with plans to deliver on the promise of his campaign outreach to people of faith, including evangelicals. He kept and expanded the White House faith-based initiative, creating an advisory council (which, unlike the current president’s council, was official, established by executive order for the purpose of providing recommendations to the president and the federal government) that included robust evangelical participation. Four months into his Administration, he delivered a passionate case to heal national divides around abortion by seeking to ‘reduce the number of women seeking abortions’ while maintaining his commitment to Roe v. Wade. This speech was followed-up by years of staff work, overseen by the president, to pursue this common ground. Evangelicals were central to many of President Obama’s signature achievements: the Affordable Care Act, New START, the Paris Agreement, the expansion of America’s effort to combat human trafficking, and the rejection of deep social safety net cuts proposed by the Republican Congress.
In addition to discussing these partnerships, my recent book, Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America, also describes why the president’s olive branch withered. On the right, political Religious Right groups made it their mission to sow distrust of and animosity toward the president. This went far beyond opposing specific policies or values of the Obama Administration. They did this through spreading half-truths, tolerating or promoting conspiracy theories, and insisting that Obama was an existential threat to their faith and the nation, among other things. There were notable exceptions to this fearmongering, but they were, sadly, in the minority and suffered under accusations of being closet liberals by their fellow evangelicals.
Of course, evangelicals’ had long-held, substantive disagreements with the president’s own positions on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and religious freedom that were real hurdles to political partnership. At times, the Obama White House unnecessarily exacerbated these tensions, too often choosing to stoke conflict around social issues rather than find common ground, particularly as the re-election campaign neared. Obama called evangelicals to a more constructive politics, but some of his decisions and the political strategy of his party also helped sow the seeds for their embrace of Trump. Nevertheless, though he faced accusations of waging a ‘war on religion’ and ran as the first nominee to support same-sex marriage, President Obama won significantly more support from white evangelicals in his re-election campaign than Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
However, in the president’s second term, his posture toward evangelicals began to shift. While the fact that he no longer had to win election may have played a role in this change, I believe it had more to do with his weariness with the nature of evangelicals’ engagement with his Administration, and in politics generally….
Read the rest here.
Wear and I are in complete agreement about the role that fear has played in the evangelical embrace of Donald Trump. I develop this argument more fully in the first three chapters of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.
Mike Pence thinks so:
Vice President Mike Pence told tens of thousands of pro-life activists gathered in D.C. that President Trump is the “most pro-life president in American history.”
In his remarks to the 45th March for Life, which were broadcast live via satellite from the Rose Garden, the vice president said the U.S. Supreme Court launched the pro-life movement 45 years ago when it created a constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade.
“A movement that continues to win hearts and minds,” Mr. Pence said. “A movement defined by generosity, compassion and love, and a movement that one year ago tomorrow inaugurated the most pro-life president in American history, President Donald Trump.”
He touted Mr. Trump’s pro-life accomplishments, including “preventing taxpayer dollars from funding abortions overseas” and “nominating judges who will uphold our God-given liberties enshrined in the Constitution of the United States.”
“This president has been a tireless defender of life and conscience in America,” he said. “And today, President Trump will do even more to defend the must vulnerable in our society.”
This means nothing. Trump has done nothing yet to limit abortions in America. Let’s see how significantly abortion declines during his presidency and then we can talk. Abortions have been declining in America since 2006. Let’s see if Trump can keep it going. (Of course you want to define “pro-life” in a way that includes the protection of human life outside the womb, we need to have another conversation).
So far, Barack Obama appears to be the most pro-life president in American history since Roe v. Wade. In fact, abortions shrunk every year Obama was in office.
Please record your caption to this photo in the comments section.
And it also looks like he has been to Springsteen on Broadway!
From his Facebook page:
During my presidency, I started a tradition of sharing my reading lists and playlists. It was a nice way to reflect on the works that resonated with me and lift up authors and artists from around the world. With some extra time on my hands this year to catch up, I wanted to share the books and music that I enjoyed most. From songs that got me moving to stories that inspired me, here’s my 2017 list — I hope you enjoy it and have a happy and healthy New Year.
The best books I read in 2017:
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Grant by Ron Chernow
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Five-Carat Soul by James McBride
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
*Bonus for hoops fans: Coach Wooden and Me by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano
My favorite songs of 2017:
Mi Gente by J Balvin & Willy William
Havana by Camila Cabello (feat. Young Thug)
Blessed by Daniel Caesar
The Joke by Brandi Carlile
First World Problems by Chance The Rapper (feat. Daniel Caesar)
Rise Up by Andra Day
Wild Thoughts by DJ Khaled (feat. Rihanna and Bryson Tiller)
Family Feud by Jay-Z (feat. Beyoncé)
Humble by Kendrick Lamar
La Dame et Ses Valises by Les Amazones d’Afrique (feat. Nneka)
Unforgettable by French Montana (feat. Swae Lee)
The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness by The National
Chanel by Frank Ocean
Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man
Butterfly Effect by Travis Scott
Matter of Time by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Little Bit by Mavis Staples
Millionaire by Chris Stapleton
Sign of the Times by Harry Styles
Broken Clocks by SZA
Ordinary Love (Extraordinary Mix) by U2
*Bonus: Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen (not out yet, but the blues version in his Broadway show is the best!)
In The Guardian. A taste:
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power, a book about Barack Obama’s presidency and the tenacity of white supremacy, has captured the attention of many of us. One crucial question is why now in this moment has his apolitical pessimism gained such wide acceptance?
Coates and I come from a great tradition of the black freedom struggle. He represents the neoliberal wing that sounds militant about white supremacy but renders black fightback invisible. This wing reaps the benefits of the neoliberal establishment that rewards silences on issues such as Wall Street greed or Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and people.
The disagreement between Coates and me is clear: any analysis or vision of our world that omits the centrality of Wall Street power, US military policies, and the complex dynamics of class, gender, and sexuality in black America is too narrow and dangerously misleading. So it is with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ worldview.
Coates rightly highlights the vicious legacy of white supremacy – past and present. He sees it everywhere and ever reminds us of its plundering effects. Unfortunately, he hardly keeps track of our fightback, and never connects this ugly legacy to the predatory capitalist practices, imperial policies (of war, occupation, detention, assassination) or the black elite’s refusal to confront poverty, patriarchy or transphobia.
In short, Coates fetishizes white supremacy. He makes it almighty, magical and unremovable. What concerns me is his narrative of “defiance”. For Coates, defiance is narrowly aesthetic – a personal commitment to writing with no connection to collective action. It generates crocodile tears of neoliberals who have no intention of sharing power or giving up privilege.
Read the rest here.
Over at The New Republic, senior editor Jeet Heer reflects on the meaning of optimism and pessimism in the rhetoric of Donald Trump and Barack Obama, the theology of Norman Vincent Peale, and the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Here is a taste of his piece: “The Power of Negative Thinking”:
The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, during his long imprisonment under Benito Mussolini’s regime, famously wrote, “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” In an American context, this combination can be found most potently in Abraham Lincoln, whose very awareness of the enormity of the problem of slavery pushed him toward the radical solution of abolition. There are few more negative national appraisals than Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, where he said, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
Traditionally, modern politicians shy away from such a dismal portrait of their own country, for fear of furthering polarizing the nation and thereby making governance more difficult. Yet as both Trump and Bernie Sanders proved in 2016, pessimism is an effective mobilizing tool because it raises the stakes of an election, bolstering the case for risk-taking change. If such a case proved convincing for Trump in the waning days of a popular presidency and steadily improving economy, then surely it would be even more convincing under a historically unpopular president who is undoing efforts to fight climate change, proposing tax cuts for the rich, sabotaging health care for the poor, demonizing non-white people, monetizing his presidency, and posing an existential threat to American democracy itself.
Trump’s curious mixture of pessimism and optimism might be rooted in the flimsy self-help gospel of Positive Thinking, but it would be a mistake to confuse the message with the messenger. There is carnage in America indeed, even if it’s largely not the carnage that Trump claimed. The problem is that the solution he offered—his supposed skills as a deal maker—was quack medicine. But an accomplished politician could, as Trump did, appeal to suffering Americans while also selling a remedy that would, unlike Trump’s, actually address their troubles. In other words, the risk for Democrats lies not in preaching such a self-serving gospel. The real risk would be to dismiss Trump’s effective rhetoric simply because he failed to deliver on it.
Read the entire piece here.
Many of us know what this is like. From The New York Times:
After Malia Obama went off to Harvard University last month, her father couldn’t hold back the tears.
Barack Obama described that moment on Monday in a speech for the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children, which was named for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s older son, who died of brain cancer in 2015.
The former president said some kind words about Beau and his parents, Joe and Jill Biden, before talking about the joys and sorrows of watching children grow up.
“For those of us who have daughters, it just happens fast,” Mr. Obama said in a video published by WDEL, a news outlet based in Wilmington, Del.
“I dropped off Malia at college, and I was saying to Joe and Jill that it was a little bit like open-heart surgery, and I was proud that I did not cry in front of her. But on the way back, the Secret Service was all looking straight ahead pretending they weren’t hearing me as I sniffled and blew my nose. It was rough.”
Read the entire piece here.
According to Heather Sells’s article at Christian Broadcast Network News, court evangelicals Tony Suarez, Jentezen Franklin, Bishop Harry Jackson, and Johnnie Moore are patting themselves on the back for speaking “truth to power.”
It seems the court evangelicals believe that they were influential in convincing Trump to wait for six months before he deports 800,000 children of immigrants who came into the United States illegally. It seems the court evangelicals are optimistic that Congress will get its act together and pass legislation that protects the DACA recipients.
Here is a taste of Sells’s piece:
Evangelicals on the President’s informal faith advisory board believe their access to the White House made a difference in protecting young immigrants from an immediate end to what’s known as the DACA program.
Rev. Tony Suarez, executive vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), told CBN News Tuesday, “I feel like our work on the faith advisory council is vindicated today…this is precisely why we joined way back in the campaign last year because we felt if we had access to this office, if we had access to this man we needed to speak truth to power, believing that at some point God would touch, God would convict and there would be compassion for children.”
Members of the president’s faith advisory council met with him and White House officials on Friday and discussed DACA as well as other political priorities. Council member Bishop Harry Jackson attended and told CBN News he thinks the board helped to make a difference for Dreamers–as those in the DACA program are often known. “The evangelical church had the president’s ear,” he said calling the six month extension “an extreme act of mercy.”
I understand the argument, but is this really speaking truth to power? Are these court evangelicals really patting themselves on the back for placing nearly 1 million Americans in a state of constant anxiety about their future? Will the DACA recipients be gone in six months–deported to the countries of their birth? (The video below suggests that the Department of Justice has already told them to start packing). Will they get a reprieve from Congress? Is Trump so wed to his anti-immigration/law and order base that he is incapable of showing empathy for these people? And then, to top it all off, he tweeted last night that he might revisit DACA if Congress does not come through. Is he for DACA or against it? If he will revisit it in 6 months why not revisit it now? Where is the presidential leadership here? Lead, Donald. Please lead!
I don’t know what role the court evangelicals played in this whole situation, but I find it hard to believe that any evangelical would be happy with the results. Once again Barack Obama has driven the court evangelicals off the moral playing field.
Watch this video:
From Obama’s Facebook page:
Immigration can be a controversial topic. We all want safe, secure borders and a dynamic economy, and people of goodwill can have legitimate disagreements about how to fix our immigration system so that everybody plays by the rules.
But that’s not what the action that the White House took today is about. This is about young people who grew up in America – kids who study in our schools, young adults who are starting careers, patriots who pledge allegiance to our flag. These Dreamers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents, sometimes even as infants. They may not know a country besides ours. They may not even know a language besides English. They often have no idea they’re undocumented until they apply for a job, or college, or a driver’s license.
Over the years, politicians of both parties have worked together to write legislation that would have told these young people – our young people – that if your parents brought you here as a child, if you’ve been here a certain number of years, and if you’re willing to go to college or serve in our military, then you’ll get a chance to stay and earn your citizenship. And for years while I was President, I asked Congress to send me such a bill.
That bill never came. And because it made no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know solely because of the actions of their parents, my administration acted to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people, so that they could continue to contribute to our communities and our country. We did so based on the well-established legal principle of prosecutorial discretion, deployed by Democratic and Republican presidents alike, because our immigration enforcement agencies have limited resources, and it makes sense to focus those resources on those who come illegally to this country to do us harm. Deportations of criminals went up. Some 800,000 young people stepped forward, met rigorous requirements, and went through background checks. And America grew stronger as a result.
But today, that shadow has been cast over some of our best and brightest young people once again. To target these young people is wrong – because they have done nothing wrong. It is self-defeating – because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel. What if our kid’s science teacher, or our friendly neighbor turns out to be a Dreamer? Where are we supposed to send her? To a country she doesn’t know or remember, with a language she may not even speak?
Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question. Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us. They are that pitcher on our kid’s softball team, that first responder who helps out his community after a disaster, that cadet in ROTC who wants nothing more than to wear the uniform of the country that gave him a chance. Kicking them out won’t lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone’s taxes, or raise anybody’s wages.
It is precisely because this action is contrary to our spirit, and to common sense, that business leaders, faith leaders, economists, and Americans of all political stripes called on the administration not to do what it did today. And now that the White House has shifted its responsibility for these young people to Congress, it’s up to Members of Congress to protect these young people and our future. I’m heartened by those who’ve suggested that they should. And I join my voice with the majority of Americans who hope they step up and do it with a sense of moral urgency that matches the urgency these young people feel.
Ultimately, this is about basic decency. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated. It’s about who we are as a people – and who we want to be.
What makes us American is not a question of what we look like, or where our names come from, or the way we pray. What makes us American is our fidelity to a set of ideals – that all of us are created equal; that all of us deserve the chance to make of our lives what we will; that all of us share an obligation to stand up, speak out, and secure our most cherished values for the next generation. That’s how America has traveled this far. That’s how, if we keep at it, we will ultimately reach that more perfect union.
In case you have not seen this yet, the letter that Barack Obama left for Donald Trump has been released. Here it is:
Dear Mr. President –
Congratulations on a remarkable run. Millions have placed their hopes in you, and all of us, regardless of party, should hope for expanded prosperity and security during your tenure.
This is a unique office, without a clear blueprint for success, so I don’t know that any advice from me will be particularly helpful. Still, let me offer a few reflections from the past 8 years.
First, we’ve both been blessed, in different ways, with great good fortune. Not everyone is so lucky. It’s up to us to do everything we can (to) build more ladders of success for every child and family that’s willing to work hard.
Second, American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It’s up to us, through action and example, to sustain the international order that’s expanded steadily since the end of the Cold War, and upon which our own wealth and safety depend.
Third, we are just temporary occupants of this office. That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions — like rule of law, separation of powers, equal protection and civil liberties — that our forebears fought and bled for. Regardless of the push and pull of daily politics, it’s up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them.
And finally, take time, in the rush of events and responsibilities, for friends and family. They’ll get you through the inevitable rough patches.
Michelle and I wish you and Melania the very best as you embark on this great adventure, and know that we stand ready to help in any ways which we can.
Good luck and Godspeed,
For me. as a historian, the key paragraph is the one that deals with the temporary nature of the office and the president’s responsibility to guard “democratic institutions and traditions.”
In order to take this advice seriously, Donald Trump must have a historical consciousness. He must see himself as part of a larger national story that has unfolded over the course of the last 241 years. As Sam Wineburg reminds us: “the narcissist sees the world–both the past and the present–in his own image. Mature historical understanding teaches us to do the opposite: to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in human history into which we have been born.”
Every quote below was uttered by either President Donald Trump in his Afghanistan speech last night or President Barack Obama at some point in his presidency. Can you match the speech with the POTUS?
I will post the answers in the comments section below at the end of the day.
Over at his blog Old Life: Reformed Faith and Practice, Hillsdale College historian Darryl Hart is once again criticizing me. Several folks who read this blog and Hart’s blog asked me if I would respond to his most recent post. I hope Darryl won’t mind if I quote the entire post below and add my responses in bold. Here goes:
John Fea is back (it’s been a while) with an explanation of why he energetically criticizes the David Bartons and Robert Jeffresses of the evangelical world:
My approach to critiquing Jeffress, the Christian Right, and the court evangelicals is structural in nature. It is fitting with my vocation as a historian. Theologians and pastors are probably better equipped to make a direct biblical case for why Jeffress’s Christian nationalism is idolatry and harmful to the witness of the Gospel. Greg Boyd, Richard, Hughes, John Wilsey, and others have already made such a case. I encourage you to read their books. But early American historians are best equipped at taking a sledgehammer to the foundation of Christian nationalist politics.
So yes, I do get “bent out of shape.” Maybe I am obsessed. Somebody has to be. We need good American history more than ever. Christian historians have a public role to play in such a time as this.
JF: My original post can be read here. I should also add that the “noted American religious historian” I reference in the first paragraph is Darryl Hart.
My problem with this at one level is that John does not seem to acknowledge the optics or signaling. If he criticizes these evangelicals, then his readers will know that he is not that kind of evangelical — though I think his readers are way smarter than that and that no one confuses Messiah College with David Barton U. (or even Liberty U.).
JF: Hart implies that my convictions are not really convictions, but a clever ploy to show people that I am “not that kind of evangelical.” I will try not to be offended. And yes, Hart is correct. Indeed, some of my evangelical readers do understand the difference between Messiah College and Liberty University or David Barton U. I also think that many of my non-evangelical readers and non-Christian readers who may not have understood the difference between these schools have learned from reading The Way of Improvement Leads Home that the world of evangelical higher education is more diverse than they originally assumed. But I also get new readers every day. If my experience is any indication, many folks out there still don’t understand the difference between Messiah College and Liberty University or David Barton University. I hope my blog will teach people that evangelicals are not all the same when it comes to their approach to higher education or politics. I should also add that The Way of Improvement Leads Home is not a Reformed Christian blog, a paleo-conservative blog, or a denominational (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) blog. In this sense, it is different than Old Life.
But the bigger objection is that John only goes after evangelicals when they do this and not the entire enchilada of American Protestantism. To read John’s blog, you might receive the impression that only the Religious Right has engaged in a crass Christian nationalism (as if a refined Christian nationalism exists). But what about when mainline Protestants engage in the kind of civil religion that evangelicals advance?
JF: I blog about what I want to blog about. I never said The Way of Improvement Leads Home tried to cover everything. Having said that, I have written a bit of history about the use of Christian nation rhetoric among mainline Protestants. Check out The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society. (I also appreciate Hart’s generally positive review of the book in The Wall Street Journal).
Consider President Obama’s remarks while welcoming Pope Francis:
You call on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to put the “least of these” at the center of our concern. You remind us that in the eyes of God our measure as individuals, and as societies, is not determined by wealth or power or station or celebrity, but by how well we hew to Scripture’s call to lift up the poor and the marginalized, to stand up for justice and against inequality, and to ensure that every human being is able to live in dignity – because we are all made in the image of God.
You remind us that “the Lord’s most powerful message” is mercy. That means welcoming the stranger with empathy and a truly open heart – from the refugee who flees war torn lands, to the immigrant who leaves home in search of a better life. It means showing compassion and love for the marginalized and the outcast, those who have suffered, and those who seek redemption. . . .
Your Holiness, in your words and deeds, you set a profound moral example. And in these gentle but firm reminders of our obligations to God and to one another, you are shaking us out of complacency. All of us may, at times, experience discomfort when we contemplate the distance between how we lead our daily lives and what we know to be true and right. But I believe such discomfort is a blessing, for it points to something better. You shake our conscience from slumber; you call on us to rejoice in Good News, and give us confidence that we can come together, in humility and service, and pursue a world that is more loving, more just, and more free. Here at home and around the world, may our generation heed your call to “never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!”
JF: If this is Christian nationalism, then call me a Christian nationalist.
I have a two-fold criticism of the Christian nationalism popular among the members of the evangelical Right. First, as a historian, I am critical of their faulty views of American history and historical thinking in general. Second, as an evangelical myself, I am critical of the way this faulty view of American history leads to the conflation of the church and the nation. If I understand Hart correctly, I think we are in agreement here.
I would make two quick points about the Obama remarks above. First, Obama does not make specific references to American history or the American founding. Second, I think much of what Obama celebrates in Pope Francis’s ideas is compatible with American values. If Obama quoted a Muslim thinker who spoke in a way compatible with American values I would say the same thing.
I believe that government has a responsibility to promote the common good. It should, among other things, protect the dignity of human life, encourage families, promote justice, care for the poor, and protect its citizens and their human rights. I also believe in something akin to the Catholic view of subsidiarity. This means that many of these moral responsibilities are best handled locally. This is why I am very sympathetic to “place”-based thinking and find the arguments put forth by James Davison Hunter in his book To Change the World to be compelling.
But when morality fails at the local level, such moral failures must be dealt with by higher governmental authorities. For example, I believe that the intervention of the federal government in the integration of schools during the era of the Civil Rights Movement was absolutely necessary. Local governments and white churches in the South failed on this front. Moral intervention was necessary. I use the term “sin” to explain understand what was going on in these racist Southern communities. Others may not use such theological language and prefer to call it “unAmerican” or simply “immoral.” But whatever we call it, I think we can still agree on the fact that what was happening in the Jim Crow South was morally problematic and the federal government needed to act. I hope Hart feels the same way. If he does, I wonder what set of ideas informs his views on this.
I realize that the kind of approach to government I am espousing here is different from the kind of secularism Hart has written about in his book A Secular Faith: Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State. According to one synopsis of the book, Hart believes that “the only role of government is to ensure that the laws do not injure faith and its practices.” (This, I might add, is the same kind of thinking put forth by court evangelicals such as Robert Jeffress).
In the end, I think Hart’s warning about mixing church and state is important. You should read A Secular Faith. I read it, enjoyed it, and learned much from it. I also agreed with much of it. I just don’t go as far as Hart in my secularism. This apparently makes me a Christian nationalist.
Maybe you agree with President Obama’s policies and Pope Francis’ teaching. But what is this “we” and “our” of which POTUS speaks? How is that anything but a mixing of Rome’s religion with America’s political norms?
And what about FDR’s “speech” that informed citizens of America’s involvement in the D-Day operations (June 6, 1944) — get this — in the form of a prayer?
My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom. . . .
JF: Wow indeed! I am not sure I am comfortable with FDR’s language here, but as a historian I also realize that FDR is speaking to a largely Judeo-Christian audience. I have never written about this quote on my blog for two reasons. First, it does not invoke American history. Second, I cannot write about everything. Maybe I will do a post on it someday.
No matter how big Jeffress’ congregation is and no matter how many Americans Barton may reach with his materials, neither can hold a candle to the kind of resources POTUS brings to bear on the nation and the world. Can Barton or Jeffress make war? I don’t think so.
So why not go after the nationalism that informs American officials who actually use force legitimately and send American soldiers to battle?
Why not also cease treating President Trump as if he is unworthy of presiding over a righteous nation? If Trump’s critics actually had a different moral standard rather than an expectation that POTUS should conform to Christian morality, they might become less indignant. Plenty of reasons to oppose Trump without Christian ones.
JF: I am opposed to Trump for both Christian and non-Christian reasons and sometimes those reasons converge. I don’t expect my POTUS to conform to Christian morality, but I do want him to exemplify some degree of moral character. I believe that there are basic standards of decency and civility that are essential to a healthy republic. Many of these are compatible with my own Christian faith, but I don’t believe that a person has to be a Christian to think such standards are important.
I am sure Hart will have much to say in response and will attempt to poke holes in my argument. That is what he does. Frankly, I am flattered that he pays so much attention to what I write. 🙂
Instead of asking “What if Obama did that?,” perhaps we should think about this kind of “whataboutism” in a different way.
Barry Friedman, a comedian who blogs at Friedman of the Plains, asks this question in the context of Barack Obama’s 2015 conversation with novelist Marilynne Robinson.
Here is a taste of Friedman’s piece:
Chronicled in two parts in the New York Review of Books, the conversation is not rushed, not formulaic, not fawning. The president, in fact, does most of the asking.
There’s all this goodness and decency and common sense on the ground, and somehow it gets translated into rigid, dogmatic, often mean-spirited politics. And some of it has to do with all the filters that stand between ordinary people who are busy and running around trying to look after their kids and do a good job and do all the things that maintain a community, so they don’t have the chance to follow the details of complicated policy debates…
Why bring up this 2015 interview now?
Because Donald Trump has no such approach to life — or governance. Rather than being awed by the things he doesn’t understand, he blames them, discounts them, ignores them, or claims special powers over them. Can you imagine him going to talk to a writer about books — imagine him with book — and asking about culture and direction and national mood, instead of barking about them? Can you imagine him trying to understand, to appreciate, to respect the 65,844,610 who didn’t vote for him? Can you imagine him trying to deconstruct the new 21st Century paradigm, not only for himself, but for the country?
Read the entire post here. (HT: Richard Bernstein, via FB)