A Day in the Pacific Northwest

Whitworth

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!

A Night in Colorado Springs

UCCS Campus from the Bluffs

I’m on the road (or in the air) today trying to find my way back to Pennsylvania through the snow, but I wanted to say a very quick word about last night’s lecture in Colorado Springs.

Jeff Scholes of the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs (UCCS) Philosophy Department and Director of the Center for Religious Diversity and Public Life was a wonderful host.  The UCCS History Department also sponsored the event and I am pretty sure my friend Paul Harvey was the point person on that front.  We had a great turnout for a lecture titled “The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”  Thanks for everyone who came out last night and I am sorry I could not hang around longer to answer all of your questions and here are all of your stories.  Feel free to follow this blog or my twitter feed to keep the conversation going!

The Eastern Mennonite University “Weather Vane” Covers the *Believe Me* Book Tour

emu

The Believe Me book tour visited Harrisonburg, Virginia last week.  Student reporters Jake Meyers and Allie Weaver of The Weather Vane report:

Dr. John Fea had three main targets when he wrote his book “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump”: white evangelicals who voted for the current president, white evangelicals who did not, and everyone else. A history professor at Messiah College, Fea presented at the University Colloquium in the MainStage Theater on Wednesday, Jan. 16. He began by describing Election Night 2016 from his point of view, reliving the shock and defeat he felt as the results rolled in. What happened? The point of this book was to explain how 81 percent of evangelicals arrived at the conclusion that shaped their voting decision.

Fea, a self-identified evangelical Christian, based his argument on three contrasts found in that community: fear over hope, power over humility, and nostalgia over history.

“Fear is not a good place for Christians to be dwelling,” he said. Going back as far as the 17th century, fear in the U.S. has been associated with political or social change. Americans decided that their country was the greatest and “baptized” it as a Christian nation. Any change to this narrative induced fear and a strong backlash. In the South during the 1800s, white evangelicals built a “Christian” society on the backs of slavery and white supremacy, and when this way of life was threatened, there were two responses: the Civil War and a complex theological defense of their way of life. “Both of these were driven by fear,” he argued.

The pattern continued; things changed and evangelicals grew fearful. Immigrants arrived and the Supreme Court overturned segregation and legalized abortion. The “Christian” nation was falling apart, and the election of President Obama only intensified this “perfect storm.” Here, Fea invited the gathering to empathize with evangelicals. Under the Obama administration, gay marriage went from illegal to legalized. When fearful, people turn to political strongmen to lead them. Enter Donald Trump.

Fea pointed out how Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” played off the nostalgia and fear that many of his supporters felt about the past. Associate Professor Ji Eun Kim said, “Depending on who you are and what you advocate, America in the past was either great or far from being great. Paying close attention to the foundations, underlying values, or any prejudice and biases that shape our view of history, would be much needed to address any concerns.” Because many of Trump’s evangelical supporters felt nostalgia for the past, their fear led them to turn to Trump and his promise to, “Make America Great Again.”

Read the rest here.

This student newspaper was generally sympathetic.  This was not the case with a writer for the student newspaper at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.

Believe Me 3d

On the Road This Winter/Spring

Kopfsteinpflaster in Mestlin-Ruest

I hope to see some of you on the road in the next few months:

January 16, 2019: BELIEVE ME BOOK TOUR
University Colloquium, Eastern Mennonite University, 4:00pm
“The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump” 

February 3, 2019
Cumberland County Historical Society, Greenwich, NJ
Lecture: “The Greenwich Tea Burning in History and Memory

February 5, 2019
North Greenville, University, Greenville, SC
Boggs Hickson Endowed Lecture: “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

February 11, 2019: BELIEVE ME BOOK TOUR
University of Colorado-Colorado Springs 
The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump”

February 15, 2019
CCCU Annual Conference for Chief Academic Officers, St. Petersburg, Fla 
“Christian Education in the Age of Trump: Challenges and Opportunities” (Invitation Only)

February 19, 2019: BELIEVE ME BOOK TOUR
Inaugural Crossley Lecture, Department of Religion, University of Southern California
“The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump”

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

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

March 21, 2019: BELIEVE ME BOOK TOUR
Ward Lecture, Greensboro College, Greensboro, NC
“The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump”

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

Evangelical Gaslighting

Dallas First

This summer I visited twelve independent bookstores to speak about my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  These were public talks sponsored by the stores.  I had no idea what kind of people would show-up.  I expected verbal sparring at nearly every stop. I girded my loins (to use a biblical phrase) and prepared each night to face Trump voters who I expected to respond to my book with angry dissent.  I tried to anticipate every pro-Trump talking point and prepared myself to answer to each one of them.

Things did not go as I expected.  I ran into a few rabid Trump supporters.  I also ran into many sober-minded, even thoughtful, Trump voters.  And, as you might expect at a book talk at an independent bookstore, I met a lot of folks who occupied a political space that is left of center.

But each night I also met people–sometimes many people–like Elizabeth Baker of Katy, Texas.  Here is what Baker had to say recently in a piece she wrote for the Huffington Post:

I don’t sleep through the night anymore. I suffer from near daily panic attacks and almost constant anxiety. The source of my joy, my security and my identity has vanished, leaving me with an angry grief that almost no one in my immediate circle understands. I have relationships that were once life-giving but have turned toxic. I feel manipulated, deceived and abused. And why?

The church that raised me is gaslighting me.

I am a 39-year-old, white, straight, suburban mom. And I am a Christian ― at least I think I still am. I grew up in a privileged bubble, in deep red Republican country, where identifying as a Christian didn’t set me apart from the majority of my peers. Being a Christian certainly wasn’t any risk to my life or reputation. I spent my childhood in Sunday school, church camp and youth group, learning Bible stories about heroes who battled a giant with a slingshot, survived a lions’ den due to unshakable faith, and led an entire group of people out of slavery and into a promised land.

The church also taught me the story of Jesus, the son of God, whom God sent to earth as a defenseless human infant. Jesus spent 33 completely sinless years on this planet, only to be brutally murdered as a sacrifice for me, because of me. I was born with my sinful nature and no matter how good I try to be, how many prayers I pray or Bible study gatherings I attend, I am ultimately a sinner ― and the wages of sin is death. According to the church, I deserve death, simply for existing.

But the church also claims there’s good news! Even though I deserve death, Jesus’ bloody crucifixion and subsequent bodily resurrection saves me from a fiery eternal hell ― all because I believe this supernatural story and earnestly accept the gift of his grace. And because of this sacrifice, I owe him a lifetime of gratitude, worship and a commitment to follow his commandments (even though, because of my human flesh, I will always ultimately fail him).

Night after night men and women like Baker waited in line for me to sign their books and tell me their stories.  One young man thanked me for writing the book and then said that he felt more at home spiritually in the bookstore that night than he usually does at his own evangelical church.  His eyes were filled with tears as he told me about the like-minded people he met in the audience and how freeing it was to talk to them.  It was clear that many of these folks had a lot to get off their chests about evangelicalism and they saw me as a sympathetic ear.  Sometimes I tried to offer encouragement, other times I joined them in their lament, sometimes I prayed with them, but most of the time I just listened.  (And if you know me, listening is not always one of my strong suits.  I’m working on it, though!).

I did not expect this.

As I read Baker’s piece, I thought again about all the people I met this summer.  Here is another taste:

It simply does not matter to the evangelical church that Trump is racist and that his dehumanizing rhetoric is emboldening radicals and costing Americans their lives. Americans are dying in mass shootings at the hands of white supremacists, while the church is celebrating the nation’s return to traditional values. For Christians who reject the MAGA mindset, this is absolute crazy making.

No wonder I live with crippling anxiety and spiritual trauma. The church that warned me against moral relativism now calls me a heretic when I apply the very principles they taught me to real situations, with real stakes for real people. I don’t know where to turn or whom to trust. Is any of it true? Have I wasted my life on a religion that hurts more than it helps?

I stopped attending church regularly almost two years ago, but I am more invested in my spiritual life than ever before. Although I’ve lost the majority of my local Christian community, save for a few precious friends, I still cling to the true teachings and example of Jesus to inform my politics and moral code. I now understand that Scripture pays more attention to serving the needs of the oppressed than to regulating their lifestyle. Sin is not as much about my behavior as it is about my inability to love people well.

Meanwhile, I’ve diversified my bookshelf, podcast subscriptions and Twitter feed to include voices speaking truth to power from the perspective of marginalized people ― the same voices that the Trump administration continually tries to silence. I’ve joined online communities of people also working through spiritual trauma and gaslighting by the evangelical church. This fall, I attended the Evolving Faith conference, a gathering of more than 1,500 people in different stages of the deconstructing of their faith. As I’ve worked through my grief and anger, I’ve discovered I am not as isolated as I once believed. My hope is to someday find a local church again, one that is progressive, open and affirming, but I am not actively searching.

I wish the evangelical church would wake up and realize how many of us there are out there feeling manipulated and abused. This community of wanderers is dealing with grief both privately and collectively. Together we weep, we rage and we try to rebuild what’s left of our shattered spiritual lives. Healing is slow and it’s painful. I’m working hard to separate the true, worthy parts of Christianity from the bullshit. I do hope to return to church someday, but I will never again be gaslighted by an institution that sells out Jesus for political power.

Read Baker’s entire piece here.  There are a lot of folks out there who will recognize her spiritual struggles because they are also their struggles.  Perhaps Trump really is changing the course of American Christianity

The Third Leg of the *Believe Me* Book Tour Kicks-Off in January

Believe Me 3dThanks to all the institutions that hosted us this Fall on the second leg of the Believe Me book tour: University of Chicago Seminary Co-Op Bookstore, Valparaiso University, Cornerstone University, Taylor University, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Hope College, the National Association of Evangelicals, Southern Methodist University, John Brown University, Emmanuel United Methodist Church (Laurel, MD), and the Woodrow Wilson School and Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University.

In Spring 2019 we will be making the following stops:

January 16: Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA

February 11: University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

February 15: Annual Conference of Chief Academic Officers, Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, St. Petersburg, FL (Not open to the public)

February 19: Inaugural Crossley Lecture, Department of Religion, University of Southern California

February 26:  Georgetown Day School, Washington, D.C.  (Not open to the public)

March 18: Whitworth University, Spokane, WA

March 21: Ward Lecture: Greensboro College, Greensboro, NC

April 8: Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, Hamilton, MA

See you on the road.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Princeton University

WIlson View

The view from my “Visitors” office at the Wilson School

I spent the lunch hour today at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affair at Princeton University.   The Wilson School, in conjunction with the Princeton Center for the Study of Religion, hosted me for a book discussion on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  We had a nice turnout of graduate students and faculty from both the Department of Religion and the Wilson School.  Thanks to Jenny Wiley Legath for hosting me and providing me with a great parking spot in front of Robertson Hall! 🙂

Wilson School

Look Mom and Dad, I have an office at Princeton!  🙂

Taking Care of Business

OnTheRoad

7:45am:  Voted at my local polling place

12:00pm:  At Princeton University for an event on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump co-sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Center for the Study of Religion.

2:15pm:  On Canadian television  (CBC News Network) to talk evangelicals and the election.

7:00pm: In Scranton, Pennsylvania area to watch the Mechanicsburg Area High School girls soccer team compete in the first round of the state tournament vs. Dallas High School.

9:00-12:00pm:  On call with Canadian Broadcast Corporation radio coverage of the 2018 midterms.

Long day.

*Believe Me* at the Evangelical Theological Society

ETS-Logo

I have never been to the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society  before.  It is not my professional crowd.  But when a few members asked if they could put together a session on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I agreed to participate.  See you in Denver on November 13, 2018.  I have never been part of a 3 hour and 10 minute conference session before, so this should be interesting.  I am sure I will have much to support.

9:00 AM-12:10 PM

American Christianity

A Review Session of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by John Fea

Tower Building–Mezzanine Level Silver

Moderator: Miles S. Mullin II (Hannibal-LaGrange University)

9:00-9:15AM

Miles S. Mullin II (Hannibal-LaGrange University)

Introduction of the book and the presenters

9:15-9:45 AM

Justin Taylor (Crossway Books)

9:50-10:20 AM

Gary Steward (Colorado Christian College)

10:25-10:55AM

Jemar Tisby (University of Mississippi)

11:00-11:25AM

John Fea (Messiah College)

11:25AM-12:10PM

Panel and Audience Discussion

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Laurel, Maryland

emmanuel umc feature 5.64485789

I had a wonderful morning last Sunday with the good folks at Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Laurel, Maryland.  I spoke on the theme of hope in both the morning services and then met with about thirty church members who have spent the last several weeks reading and discussing Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Thanks to Rev. Stephanie Vader for inviting me.

Emmanuel is a small church, but the members of the congregation are thoughtful Christians who are filled with spiritual life and vitality.  I was blessed by my visit and found myself on the drive home wishing I could be part of their community on a more regular basis.  Emmanuel is a church striving to speak truth to power in the age of Trump by living lives defined by justice, compassion, mercy, love, peace and humility.

You can watch the service here.