The Believe Me book tour rolls into Colorado Springs on Monday. I will be lecturing at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs on February 11th. Learn more here. The lecture is open to the public. I hope to see some of you there!
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.
I am honored to deliver the inaugural Jack Crossley Lecture at the University of Southern California School of Religion. Learn more here.
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)
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
Thanks 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.
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! 🙂
7:45am: Voted at my local polling place
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.
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
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)
Miles S. Mullin II (Hannibal-LaGrange University)
Introduction of the book and the presenters
Justin Taylor (Crossway Books)
Gary Steward (Colorado Christian College)
Jemar Tisby (University of Mississippi)
John Fea (Messiah College)
Panel and Audience Discussion
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.
I spent the day on Wednesday at John Brown University (JBU) in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. (It was my first trip to the “Natural State”). Trisha Posey, Director of the University Honors Program, and Daniel Bennett, Assistant Professor of Political Science, invited me to participate in the university’s 2nd Annual Reimagining Faith and Public Life event.
After a great dinner at the home of JBU president Chip Pollard, I was happy to share the stage for the main event with Jonathan Leeman, a Christian writer, theologian, pastor and editorial director of a Christian website called 9Marks. Leeman is the author of How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics a Divided Age. Trisha moderated a fruitful discussion about how evangelicals can move beyond a Christian Right approach to politics.
Reimagining Faith and Public Life was actually the culminating event of a day full of teaching and conversation at JBU. It began with breakfast (Rikki Skopp is an absolutely amazing baker!) and fellowship with JBU honors faculty. I then had the privilege of teaching Trisha’s first-year honors seminar “Faithful Leadership in Times of Crisis.” Trisha and her students are studying historical examples of Christian leaders who led during difficult times. So far they have looked at Sophie Scholl, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the monks of the medieval period. Later in the semester they will study the lives of Oscar Romero, John Woolman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Galileo, Leymah Gbowee, and a few others. I am not sure if Abraham Lincoln can be considered a “faithful leader,” but he was certainly a leader in a “time of crisis.” I chose to focus on his Second Inaugural Address as a theological reflection on the Civil War. Lincoln’s religious take on the war was quite different from the writing and rhetoric of the leading Protestant theologians of the day.
After class I spent some time with one of Trisha’s students who is writing a very interesting paper on Reinhold Niebuhr’s critique of Billy Graham and mid-century American evangelicalism. We chatted about the current state of the evangelical movement (is there such a thing?) and if there is anything that Niebuhr might be able to teach present-day evangelicals.
After lunch with JBU faculty, I headed to Dan Bennett’s American Government class where I led students in a discussion of Chapter 1 of Believe Me, “The Evangelical Politics of Fear.” Our discussion of “fear” led to a conversation about same-sex marriage and somehow ended with a focus on “nostalgia” and Christian nationalism. Our discussion was all over the map, but the students seemed engaged.
Finally, I had a chance to meet with the members of two faculty-staff JBU book clubs who have been reading Believe Me. As I fielded questions about the book I continued to learn more about the strengths and weakness of my argument. At some point a book has to go to the publisher, appear in print, and be consumed by the public. But I find that I am always refining my thinking about a project through an engagement with readers. It is flattering to have your ideas taken seriously and it is especially flattering when those ideas are taken seriously by such a vibrant and engaged group of academics, human resource professionals, advancement officers, and students.
I felt at home all day at JBU. I hope to return some time soon.
Travel tip: When flying to the airport in Fayetteville, Arkansas be careful not to board a plane for Fayetteville, North Carolina. Yes, this almost happened. FYI: Fayetteville, Arkansas airport appears on the display as “Northwest Arkansas” or “Bentonville.”
Stay tuned for the next stop on the Believe Me book tour: Sunday, October 28th at Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Laurel, Maryland.
.@JohnFea1 That amazing lecture last night goes on our center’s Mt. Rushmore of talks for sure. Thank you for showing how to talk religion AND politics at once. Safe travels but please hurry back!@CPHatSMU @SMUHistoryDept
— Jeffrey A. Engel (@jeffreyaengel) October 12, 2018
Last Thursday night the Believe Me book tour visited Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The Center for Presidential History served as host. Thanks to Brian Franklin, Assistant Director of the Center, and Jeff Engel, Director, for the invitation. And thanks to Ronna Spitz for coordinating all the details. They did a great job promoting the event in the greater Dallas area and as a result more than 200 people showed-up! The crowd was largely sympathetic, but there were clearly some Trump supporters in the room who did not agree with everything I said in the lecture. And no, Robert Jeffress did not come to the lecture (I have now been asked that a couple of times), but the first question from the audience was from a man who occasionally attends Jeffress’s church (First Baptist–Dallas) and was trying to figure out how the Dallas megachurch pastor reconciled his biblical sermons with his Fox News pundit.
The SMU student newspaper covered the event here.
On Wednesday, October 17 I will be at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Stay tuned.
On Wednesday morning, October 10, I will be on Capitol Hill (Dirksen Senate building) to speak to about 100 evangelical leaders gathered for the National Association of Evangelicals’ annual “Washington Briefing.”
The NAE leadership has asked me to talk about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. The event is not open to the public, but I can announce that I will be sharing the day with Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Mark Green, Nathan Gonzalez, Shirley Hoogstra, Ali Noorani, Sen. James Lankford, Brian Walsh, Barbara Williams-Skinner, Sen. Marco Rubio, Stephanie Summers, and Os Guinness.
During the Q&A session at Taylor University on Tuesday night someone asked me if my work at a college with Anabaptist roots (Messiah College) influenced what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. It was a great question–one that I have thought a lot about. Historian Jared Burkholder made the same observation a few months ago.
This question was on my mind again on Wednesday afternoon when I spoke to a group of faculty, students, and staff at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana. During the conversation following my talk, I realized that a lot of my thinking about religion, politics, justice, and public life is very compatible with the views of my Mennonite brothers and sisters, especially when it comes to the Christian nationalism that drives so many white evangelicals. I felt at home at AMBS. At the same time, I also realized that Anabaptism and Evangelicalism are quite different, especially when it comes to the theology of the atonement and the role that doctrine plays in Christian identity. After talking to folks at AMBS, I realized that I need to go back and re-read Burkholder and David Cramer’s book The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptists.
After the AMBS visit I drove up to Holland, Michigan for an evening talk at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. We had a great turnout and one of the more engaging Q&A sessions of the tour. Thanks to Jeanne Pettit of the Hope history department for the invitation. It was also great to see my old friend and Hope historian Fred Johnson and meet so many Hope professors, including Lynn Japinga, Aaron Franzen, Wayne Tan, Mark Baer (who is leading a church reading group on Believe Me), Janis Gibbs, Steven Bouma-Prediger, David Ryden, and Virginia Beard.
I tweeted about my favorite moment of the night:
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) October 4, 2018
On to Calvin College for the meeting of the Conference on Faith and History. See you there.
Yesterday started at Anna’s House in Grand Rapids where I had breakfast with my favorite Calvin College student. 🙂
I then headed over to Cornerstone University for my first book talk of the day. A Trump supporter in the audience accused me of hubris, implied that I supported the murder of babies, and informed me that my reference to my evangelical background was an attempt to engage in “identity politics,” but after this opening “question,” things settled down and we had a fruitful conversation about Trump and evangelicals. Thanks to everyone who took some time out of their day to come to a noontime lecture and special thanks to history professor Martin Spence for the invitation!
I spent the afternoon on Interstate 69 traveling to an evening lecture at Taylor University. (Thank goodness for Sirius/XM radio I was entertained by Bruce Springsteen CNN, NPR, “the 70s on 7” and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo).
A great crowd of students and faculty showed-up for the lecture. After the talk I spent an hour or two in some informal conversation with about 20 Taylor honors students. I am always impressed by the thoughtfulness of the young evangelicals I meet at events like this. We spent time wrestling with the definition of “evangelical” (most of them do not describe themselves as “evangelicals,” preferring to use the word “Christian” instead), talked about the place of the humanities at a Christian college, and reflected on the best ways for Christians to engage with politics (I recommended works by James Davison Hunter and Glenn Tinder).
Thanks to Steve Austin and Jeff Cramer for the invitation.
That’s all for now. Today I will be at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana at noon and Hope College this evening. Then it is back to Calvin College for the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History. Stay tuned.
October 2, 2018
Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids, MI 11:30-1:00pm
Lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump
October 2, 2018
Taylor University, Upland, IN 7:30pm
Lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump
October 3, 2018
Hope College, Holland, MI, 7:00pm
Lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump
October 3, 2018
Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, IN, 12:00pm
Discussion of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump
October 4-6, 2018 (This event is not part of the Believe Me tour).
Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History, Grand Rapids, MI
Program Chair: “History and the Search for Meaning: The CFH at 50”
I will be talking about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart on October 3, 2018. The event is part of the AMBS Noon Lunch Forum and will take place in the Lambright Dining Hall at noon.
The event is open to the public, but the organizers ask that you RSVP if you wish to enjoy the meal ($6.50) that will be served during the talk. If you are coming for lunch please send an e-mail by Monday to lkvandrick(at)ambs(dot)edu
The Believe Me book tour rolled through my old stomping grounds on Tuesday night. I taught at Valparaiso University from 2000-2002 as a Lilly Fellow in the Humanities and the Arts. Here is the first house we lived in:
Then we had a sewer back-up in Spring 2001 and moved a few doors down to this house:
I am thankful to Joe Creech, Program Director of the Lilly Fellows Program, and Joe Goss, Assistant Program Director, for inviting me back to Valpo to speak about the book. I had dinner with five impressive Lilly Fellows and we had a spirited discussion about public scholarship, evangelicalism, Trump, and church-related colleges and universities. Thanks to Ashleigh Elser, Daniel Silliman, Jason Gehrke, Christine Hedlin, and Cassandra Painter for the conversation. If you have a job opening at your college or university you need to give these young scholars a serious look.
Rather than a traditional book talk, Daniel Silliman, a historian of American religion, interviewed me. Jared Burkholder, a historian at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana, was present and blogged about the event here.
And thanks to Ashleigh Elser for the kind introduction.
Earlier in the day, I spent an hour or so in the Linwood House, the former Valparaiso University president’s home and the building that houses the Lilly Fellows Program. A lot has changed in the house, but the living room, the place where the Lilly Fellows and their mentors gather together each week to talk about faith, higher education, and academic vocation, looks relatively the same as it did eighteen years ago:
I also found a bookshelf full of books written by former Lilly Fellows. If you look closely at the pics, you will see books by historians Mary Beth Connolly, Kathy Sprows Cummings, Lisa Deam, Darren Dochuk, Robert Elder, Andrew Finstuen, Matthew Hedstrom, Paul Harvey, Mary Henold, Thomas Albert (Tal) Howard, Louis Nelson, James Kennedy, Matthew Lundin, John McGreevy, Peter Mercer-Taylor, James Skillen, and Stephanie Yuhl.
It was great to see so many old friends and make some new friends in Valpo this week!