Four years that I can’t get back. But the work was necessary

I have spent a lot of time writing about Trump in the past four years. Most of you by now are familiar with my 2018 book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and my 2018 tour. One Twitter pundit suggested that he could not understand how I could devote four years of my intellectual life to writing about this president. I thought it was an arrogant comment (no, it wasn’t @OldLife–:-)), but I digress…

I am not sure if I am done writing about evangelicals and Trump, and I have temporarily shelved some other more traditional history writing to focus on this subject, but I think what I have done over the last four years has been necessary work. As a working class kid of immigrant grandparents, a teenage convert to evangelicalism with three degrees from evangelical schools, and a Ph.D in American history, I concluded (with a few nudges from friends) that I was uniquely qualified to speak to this moment. I decided very early that I could not stand on the sidelines as this Trumpian debacle unfolded.

But I also resonate with Michelle Goldberg’s recent piece at The New York Times: “Four Wasted Years Thinking About Donald Trump.” Here is a taste:

But when I think back, from my obviously privileged position, on the texture of daily life during the past four years, all the attention sucked up by this black hole of a president has been its own sort of loss. Every moment spent thinking about Trump is a moment that could have been spent contemplating, creating or appreciating something else. Trump is a narcissistic philistine, and he bent American culture toward him.

Read the entire piece here.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Mechanicsburg Church of the Brethren

Church of Brethren

I had a great visit yesterday with an adult education class at Mechanicsburg (PA) Church of the Brethren.  The class is reading Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and it was a privilege to be present to answer questions and talk more about the book.

We spent a lot of time exploring theological, political, and historical factors that led so many evangelical to support Trump in 2016, but we also talked about a vision for Christian politics defined by hope, humility, and an informed understanding of American history.  Class members had questions about abortion, “end times” theology, environmentalism, the 2020 election, and how to think more Christianly about political engagement.

As Christian political scientist Glenn Tinder explains, politics requires “attentiveness” and “availability.”  Attentive people are aware of what others are “doing, suffering, [and] saying.” But they also make themselves available.  They see the needs of the world and ask: “Is there anything I can do about it?”  If we think about politics this way, then churches are always engaged in political activity.  And if churches are always engaged in political activity, then it also has a responsibility to think deeply about how to exercise such engagement in accordance with scripture.

Thanks to Warren Eshbach for the invitation.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour: EXTENDED!

Believe Me 3dWith the January 7, 2020 release of the paperback of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and the upcoming primary and general election season, the folks at Eerdmans Publishing have encouraged me to revive the Believe Me book tour.

Because of my teaching schedule, I am unable to take long trips.  But we are currently booking dates at bookstores, colleges and universities, churches, and other venues for the upcoming year at locations under 400 miles from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  (I am happy to entertain longer trips, but can’t make any promises).

meme-believeme 1

So far the Believe Me book tour has visited The Midtown Scholar Bookstore (Harrisburg, PA), Politics & Prose Bookstore (Washington D.C.), Penguin Bookshop (Sewickley, PA), The Book Loft (Columbus, OH), Carmichael’s Bookstore (Louisville, KY), Taylor Books (Charleston, WV), Givens Books (Lynchburg, VA), Quail Ridge Books (Raleigh, NC), Winchester Book Gallery (Winchester, VA), Chop Suey Books (Richmond, VA), St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (Richmond, VA), Hearts & Minds Bookstore (Dallastown, PA), Seminary Co-Op Bookstore (Chicago, IL), Valparaiso University (Valparaiso, IN), Cornerstone University (Grand Rapids, MI), Taylor University (Upland, IN), Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Elkhart, IN), Hope College (Holland, MI), Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX), John Brown University (Siloam Springs, AR), Emmanuel United Methodist Church (Laurel, MD), Princeton University (Princeton, NJ), Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, VA), University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, University of Southern California, Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church (Mechanicsburg, PA), Whitworth University (Spokane, WA), Greensboro College (Greensboro, NC), Penn State-New Kensington (New Kensington, PA), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Hamilton, MA), and Lancaster Interfaith Peace Witness (Lancaster, PA).

If you are interested in setting-up an event please context Christine Walter at cwalter(at)messiah(dot)edu

I hope to see you on the road this year.

This Reminds Me of What I Heard Every Night on the *Believe Me* Book Tour

Believe Me 3d

Christianity Today’s CEO Tim Dalrymple responding to critics of Mark Galli’s recent editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump:

Reader responses to Mark Galli’s recent editorial have spanned the spectrum. We have received countless notes of encouragement from readers who were profoundly moved. They no longer feel alone. They have hope again. Many have told us of reading the editorial with tears in their eyes, sharing it with children who have wandered from the faith, rejoicing that at last someone was articulating what they felt in their hearts. They felt this was a watershed moment in the history of the American church—or they hoped it would prove to be. Stay strong, they told us, knowing we were about to reap the whirlwind.

I know some of these people.  I met them when I was on the road with Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. I am glad that those in the 19% are finding their voice!

The Third Great Evangelical Awakening is Here and Donald Trump is Leading It

Believe Me 3dDonald Trump claims that his impeachment is “electrifying” the evangelical churches.  He talks as if he is somehow responsible for a religious revival that is apparently influencing “hundreds of thousands” of people.  Hallelujah!  It is the Third Great Awakening!


Here is a question to consider:  Is Trump right?  Are people joining churches because they want to rally around the president during this impeachment crisis?  If so, what does this say about American evangelicalism?

Why do so many evangelicals support Trump?  I tried to answer this question in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  It will appear in paperback in January 2020, just in time for primary season.  In the meantime, check out the book’s recently updated website.

I’m open for some more book talks or lectures in the wake of the paperback release.  Let me know if you are interested in setting something up for Winter, Spring or Summer 2020.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to a Soft Close in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Believe Me 3dMy book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump is scheduled to appear in paperback in January 2020, just in time for the primary season.  I imagine the speaking invitations might pick up between now and the 2020 election, but yesterday marked the last scheduled event on the tour.  I have been on the road with this book (off and on, of course) since June 2018.  If am counting correctly, I have appeared before forty-two flesh and blood audiences to talk about the book and multiple podcasts and radio shows and two appearances on both C-SPAN and CNN.

I remain passionate about explaining the historical forces at work that led 81% of white evangelicals (my tribe) to vote for Donald Trump in 2016.  I remain equally passionate about trying to convince my fellow evangelicals that this was a bad idea.  Some have accused me of having Trump derangement syndrome.  Perhaps this is true, but I refuse to stand by and let the immoral Trump presidency become the new normal.  The country and the church can do much better.  So feel free to reach out if you are still interested in a talk at your church, campus, or bookstore.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon speaking to the members of the Lancaster Interchurch Peace Witness.  It was a friendly audience who had a lot of very good questions.  I fielded questions about Christian Zionism and Trump, the possibilities of a progressive Christian political witness, the racial divide in the evangelical community, and whether or not the answer to political partisanship in America is another Jonathan Edwards-like revival.

Thanks to Barry Stoner for the invitation and for Byron Borger of Hearts & Minds Bookstore for providing the books for signing.

A Visit to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Gordon Conwell

I spent Monday night at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts (Boston-area).  Thanks to Gordon-Conwell president Dennis Hollinger for the invitation and Mary Ann Hollinger for her hospitality.

The Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life sponsored conversation on evangelicals and politics that included Boisi director (and Jesuit theologian) Mark Massa, Dartmouth historian of American evangelicalism Randall Balmer, and yours truly.

A few takeaways:

  1. Gordon-Conwell is a seminary founded by mid-century evangelical stalwarts Billy Graham, J. Howard Pew and J. Harold Ockenga.  Over the last fifty years it has been an institutional fixture on the evangelical landscape.  During the course of the evening I did not meet a single Trump supporter.  This is the first time that I have been at a self-identified evangelical institution where I did not meet someone who wanted to make the case for Trump.
  2. I talked with several pastors-in-training (MDiv students) who wanted advice about how to deal with Trump supporters in their future congregations.  My advice:  preach the Gospel in season and out of season.   I hope they will avoid bringing politics into the pulpit, but rather preach in a positive way about what the Bible teaches regarding truth and lying, welcoming the stranger, caring for the “least of these,” loving neighbors,” the dignity of human life, and the pursuit of holiness.  I encouraged them, to borrow a term from Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter, to be “faithfully present” in the congregations and communities where God calls them to serve.
  3.  All of the evangelical millennials I chatted with were fed-up with Trump and the Christian Right.  It seems like a sea-change is coming.
  4.  During the formal conversation, Gordon-Conwell theology and missions professor Peter Kuzmic talked about how his fellow evangelicals in Eastern Europe were appalled that American evangelicals supported Trump.  I asked him publicly if the evangelical support of Donald Trump was hindering the work of the Gospel in Eastern Europe.  He did not miss a beat in saying “yes.”  This is tragic.  It is the case I have been making during the Believe Me book tour.  I told Kuzmic that I would like to take him with me on the road.  His testimony was a powerful one.  While court evangelicals continue to take victory laps over securing an originalist judiciary that might overturn Roe v. Wade, the witness of the Gospel is becoming more difficult, especially for missionaries.
  5. We talked a lot of about “fracture” within the evangelical community.  The days of a unified neo-evangelicalism (if there ever was such a thing) are over.  George Marsden once said that an evangelical is someone who likes Billy Graham.  Well, Billy Graham is now dead and there will be no one to replace him.  This is not a statement about whether or not there are any potential heirs to Graham.  It is rather a statement about the current state of American culture, a state that Princeton historian Daniel T. Rodgers has called the “Age of Fracture.” I want to write more about this.
  6. It was an honor to share the stage and the evening with Randall Balmer, a scholar who has taught me so much about evangelicalism.

Penn State–New Kensington Recap

New Kensington

On Tuesday night I was at Penn State University–New Kensington in western Pennsylvania.  I spoke to John Craig Hammond‘s Religion in American Culture course (he is using both Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? and Believe Me in this course) and I gave a public lecture on some of the themes covered in Believe Me.

The students in the class had just read chapter 2 of Believe Me and many of them came to class with plenty of questions for me.  A few students asked about how I navigate my Christian faith and my work as a historian.  Another student wanted to talk about the inerrancy of the Bible.  One student wondered why I focused Believe Me on “white” evangelicals.

After class I met with two evangelical students and a Hindu student who wanted to talk more deeply about religion and politics in America.  After this short chat we headed off to dinner with ten of Hammond’s first-year honor students.  After dinner we talked about the fate of American Democracy and how these students might contribute to a flourishing republic.  If you want to hear more about this conversation, I talked about it briefly on Episode 49 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  Download the episode when it drops next week.  (Our guest is Princeton historian and CNN commentator Julian Zelizer).

My evening lecture drew a mixed group of students, anti-Trumpers, and pro-Trump evangelicals.  The pro-Trumpers were most vocal during the question and answer session.  An older African-American woman said that God led her to vote for Trump after she spent a long period of time in prayer.  She also said she voted for Trump because she was pro-life and believed Trump would appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, believed in traditional marriage, and thought that God was still working through the nation of Israel. I told her that if I believed Roe v. Wade was the best way to reduce abortions, same-sex couples should  be denied civil rights, and the Bible taught that the return of the Jews to Israel would usher in the return of Jesus Christ, then I might consider voting for Trump as well.  (I don’t believe any of these things).  This woman was also disgusted with some of Trump’s racist remarks (especially in the wake of Charlottesville in August 2017) and told me that she was planning to write the president a letter about this.  In the end, however, she thought abortion, marriage, and Israel were more important than race when she entered the ballot box in November 2016.

A white evangelical woman also pushed-back hard against my lecture.  She did not like the way I characterized all of the 81% of white evangelicals who voted for Trump as supportive of everything the president does and says.  She was disgusted by Trump, but in the end she felt Trump would deliver on her preferred social issues in a way that Hillary Clinton would not.

I am now very familiar with these criticisms of Believe Me, but I have not been convinced by them.  Trump is bad for America and Trump is bad for the church.  I still stand by the central argument of my book.

Thanks again to Craig Hammond for inviting me to campus!  I will be at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Mass. on April 8.

Another Day in Greensboro

Back in June 2017, my family joined several Messiah College colleagues on a Civil Rights bus tour through the South.  Our first stop was Greensboro, North Carolina, where we visited North Carolina A&T State University and the International Civil Rights Center.  In 1960, four A&T students desegregated the lunch counter in the Greensboro Woolworths 5&10 store.  Today the Greensboro Woolworths is home to the International Civil Rights Center.  I wrote about my Civil Rights bus tour here and used much of the material from these posts in the final chapter of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Yesterday, I was back in Greensboro to give the 56th Annual Ward Lecture at Greensboro College.  My topic, as you might expect, was “The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.” The Ward Lecture is sponsored by the Greensboro College Religion Department and funded by the wonderful Ward family.  My opportunity to eat lunch with the Wards was one of highlights of the day.

We had a good turnout for the lecture and a robust Q&A session.  It was nice to meet so many Greensboro College students (especially Abby Bugger and Mackenzie Burns) and several folks from the area who are longtime readers of this blog.  (I also met the brother of a long-time reader of this blog!).

Thanks to Jason Myers and Dan Malotky of the Greensboro College Religion Department for hosting me.  Jason also took me back to the International Civil Rights Center for another tour.  I also got to talk with the local NBC station about Believe Me. (See video above). And if you are ever in Greensboro and are looking for a good bed & breakfast, I highly recommend the Double Oaks!

Here are some pics:


When in Greensboro…


 With Jean Fortner Ward. The annual Ward Lecture at Greensboro College was made possible through Jean’s husband William, who endowed the lecture to honor her contribution to Greensboro College.  Greensboro College senior religion major Abby Bugger is photobombing 🙂

Greensboro Fea 2

Talking with Bill O’Neil of WXII 12 News (NBC)

A Day in the Pacific Northwest


Last night the Believe Me book tour made its one and only stop in the Pacific Northwest.  Thanks to Dale Soden of Whitworth University‘s Weyerhauster Center for Christian Faith and Learning for inviting me to speak at this excellent Christian college in Spokane.

Dale even gave me a quick tour of the Gonzaga University campus. We drove past “The New Kennell,” home of the Gonzaga Bulldog basketball team on the evening they received a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.  I also learned that Bing Crosby’s boyhood home is on Gonzaga’s campus.

It was good to see my old friend Arlin Migliazzo (recently retired from Whitworth’s history department), touch base with Elise Leal (a very promising faculty member in early America who just joined the department this year and recently won the Sidney Mead Prize from the American Society of Church History), and meet so many of Whitworth’s outstanding history students.  I also got to chat briefly over lunch with Jerry Sittser, author of The Will of God as a Way of Lifea book I once taught as part of Messiah College’s first-year CORE.  Whitworth seems like a great place to work and study. It has been one of my favorite stops on the Believe Me tour.

I think it is fair to say that the audience response to my lecture was generally positive, but there were a few outliers.  Students from the Young Americans for Freedom chapter at Whitworth were out in force.  I know most of them disagreed with the central premise of my talk, but they were polite and respectable.  (The Whitworth YAF chapter is reeling in the wake of a recent controversy surrounding an invitation to conservative commentator Ben Shapiro).  Another student (I am not sure if he was part of YAF) wore a red “Make America Great Again” hat and then waited patiently after the lecture to tell me I was wrong about Trump.  We had a nice conversation and I asked him if he would read my book if I sent him a copy.  He said he would. The book will be in the mail soon.

The Q&A session was spirited, but that is how I like it.  Whitworth was a great host and the students and faculty who came to the lecture modeled civil dialogue.  I hope to come back to campus one day!

Off to Greensboro College in Greensboro, NC on Thursday.  See you there!

My Post-*Believe Me* Speaking Plans

Believe Me 3dSeveral of you have asked me if I will still be doing public lectures after the Believe Me book tour winds down.  Yes, I am planning to continue to speak and lecture as long as the invitations keep arriving.

While my last stop on the Believe Me tour is in April at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in the Boston area, the paperback version of the book is scheduled for January 2020 and I thus imagine I will do some more speaking as part of that release.  Stay tuned.

Of course I am also available for lectures on my other books.  In addition to those books, I am currently at work on a book about the American Revolution in New Jersey and am also hoping to co-author a young adult biography of Philip Vickers Fithian.

I also have some additional news on this front.  Most of my speaking engagements will now be handled by my assistant Christine Walter.  You can learn how to contact her about a possible lecture by heading over to the Speaking page on this website.  Christine will be the point person for travel arrangements, receipts, honorariums, and just about everything else related to my schedule. She is happy to work with your institution to make something happen.

See you on the road!

PA Turnpike

The *Believe Me* Book Tour is Winding Down

Believe Me 3dHere’s what’s left:

February 26, 2019
Lecture:  Georgetown Day School, Washington D.C. (CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC)
“Donald Trump and the Christian Right in America”

March 5, 2019
Mechanicsburg (PA) Presbyterian Church
Lecture and Discussion: “The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump”

March 18, 2019
Whitworth University, Spokane, Washington
Lecture: “The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump”

March 21, 2019
Ward Lecture, Greensboro College, Greensboro, NC
“The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump”

March 26, 2019
Penn State University at New Kensington
Lecture: “The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump”

April 8, 2019
Boisi Center Event at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. Hamilton, Massachusetts
“Evangelicals and Politics” (panel discussion with Randall Balmer and Dennis Hollinger)

A Quick Visit to the City of Angels

Fea at USC

The Believe Me book tour took me to the University of Southern California (USC) on Tuesday.  In this case, the tour doubled as the inaugural  Jack Crossley Lecture on Ethics and Religion at USC.  Crossley, who I had a chance to meet over dinner (he regaled me with stories about his experiences as a student at Princeton Theological Seminary in the early 1950s), was a longtime religion professor at USC.  One of his former students endowed the lecture.

Thanks to Cavan Concannon of the USC School of Religion for the invitation and for the School of Religion and USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture for sponsoring the event.  In addition to Cavan, I want to thank Lisa Bitel, Lynn Swartz Dodd, Rongdao Lai, Jessica Marglin, Lori Meeks, Diane Winston, and Arjun Nair for their wonderful hospitality during the day.  It was also great to finally meet longtime TWOILH supporter Ron Schooler and his wife Nathana.  Thanks for coming!

Stay tuned for more information on our next stop on the tour!