*Piety and Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House*

PenceJournalist Tom LoBianco has published a religious biography of Vice President Mike Pence.  I have not read the book, so I cannot endorse it.  But I can say that I spent significant time on the phone with LoBianco as he conducted research for the book.

He writes:

As part of my general research for this book, I relied on a handful of insightful books (and highly recommend them for anyone interested in understanding Mike Pence better).  I’ll start with Pence’s two favorite books: the Bible, and Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind.  Additionally, I relied on John Fea’s tour of evangelical history and the Trump campaign, Believe Me; The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, as well as Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson’s review of the start and disbanding of the Moral Majority, Blinded by Might.  And for all Hoosier-philes, I highly recommend James Madison’s The Indiana Way.  I also feel like I found my own  bible in this process, Jon Franklin’s Writing for Story.

Penn Live Covers *Believe Me*

Believe Me JPEGThanks to Ivey DeJesus for her work on this piece.  Here is a taste:

John Fea is preaching to his tribe when he excoriates the millions of white evangelicals who in 2016 swept Donald Trump to presidential victory.

Fea, an American history professor at Messiah College, accuses this demographic of ignorance and hypocrisy in aligning itself with a narcissistic, vulgar and seemingly unChristian man as Trump.

That is the blistering assessment that Fea delivers in his newly published book, “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”

A cultural critique, the book is a departure for Fea, who has written about half a dozen historical works. In this latest book, Fea taps into his own personal identity as a Christian evangelical to drill down into the historical forces that led 81 percent of his brethren to vote for a candidate who had no apparent Christian values, and at every turn, seems to violate the faith’s tenets.

“Nothing Trump could say or do would deter his diehard white evangelical supporters. This is still the case. Most evangelicals were willing to ignore his moral lapses because he had, to their way of thinking, the correct policy proposals,” Fea  writes.

Read the rest here.

Don’t Forget to Stop By and Say Hello This Summer

Trump Beleive me

As many of you already know, we are taking Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump on the road this summer.  If you are in the central Pennsylvania area (or even if you are not) join us on June 30 at Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg for the launch.  Or, if you are in the D.C. area, we will be at the storied Politics and Prose the following week.

Here is where we are heading:

Let me know if you want to add a date and we will see if we can work it out.

June 30, 2018
Midtown Scholar Bookstore, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 6pm
Book Launch for Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 7, 2018
Politics & Prose Bookstore, Washington D.C. 7:00pm
Book TalkBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 10, 2018
Penguin Bookshop. Sewickley, PA, 7:00pm
Book TalkBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 11, 2018
The Book Loft. Columbus, OH, 7:00pm
Book TalkBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 12, 2018
Carmichael’s Bookstore (Frankfort Ave Store), Louisville, KY, 7:00pm
Book TalkBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 13, 2018
Taylor Books, Charleston, WV, 6:00pm
Book TalkBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 14, 2018
Givens Books, Lynchburg, VA, 6:00pm
Book TalkBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 15, 2018
Quail Ridge Books. Raleigh, NC, 2:00pm
Book TalkBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 16, 2018
Winchester Book Gallery.  Winchester, VA.  6:00pm
Book TalkBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 28, 2018
Chop Suey Books. Richmond, VA.  7:00pm
Book Talk: Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

July 29, 2018
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Richmond, VA, 9:00am
Book Talk in Faith Formation Class: Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

September 24, 2018
University of Chicago Seminary Co-Op Bookstore. Chicago, IL, 6pm
Book Talk: Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

September 25, 2018
Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, IN 6:30pm
Lecture: “The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump”

October 2, 2018
Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids, MI, 11:30am
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 11, 2018
Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas
Public lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 17-18, 2018
John Brown University, Siloam Springs, Arkansas
Public lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

November 13-15, 2018
Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Denver, CO
Session on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

Endorsements (so far):

Mark Noll
— author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
“John Fea’s timely and sobering book shows convincingly how legitimate concerns from white evangelical Protestants about a rapidly secularizing American culture metastasized into a fear-driven brew of half-truths, fanciful nostalgia, misplaced Christian nationalism, ethical hypocrisy, and political naiveté—precisely, that is, the mix that led so many white evangelicals not only to cast their votes for Donald Trump but also to regard him as a literal godsend.”

Jana Riess
— senior columnist for Religion News Service
“It would be enough for John Fea to marshal his considerable prowess as a historian in proving how evangelicals have been propelled by fear, nostalgia, and the pursuit of power, as he does so compellingly in this book. But he also speaks here as a theologian and an evangelical himself, eloquently pointing toward a better gospel way. This is a call to action for evangelicals to move beyond the politics of fear to become a ‘faithful presence’ in a changing world.”

Michael Wear
— author of Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America
“In Believe Me John Fea takes evangelicalism seriously, treating it with the honest respect it deserves. He also manages to help us understand American politics in a much clearer way. I highly recommend this book to all who remain confounded by the state of faith and politics today.”

Richard Mouw
— author of Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World
“While the significant support for Donald Trump by white evangelicals has been the stuff of headlines, there has been little serious probing of the deeper factors at work. John Fea here gives us what we need, with his insightful tracing of the theological-spiritual road that has brought us to this point. A wise and important book!”

George Marsden
— author of Religion and American Culture: A Brief History and Jonathan Edwards: A Life
“For those who think the embrace of Trump by the ‘court evangelicals’ might be an example of yielding to the political temptation that Jesus resisted (Matt. 4:8–10), this is the book to read. Noted evangelical historian John Fea provides a thoughtful and engaging account and critique of how this unlikely alliance came to be.”

Trump Evangelicals and “Legitimate Concerns”

Over at my Facebook page some very good historians and scholars who I respect have been critical of Mark Noll‘s blurb for my forthcoming (June) book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Here is the blurb:

Noll Fea quote

I tried to capture some of this last night in a series of tweets:

John Wilson, the editor of the now defunct Books & Culture, responded to these veiled tweets:

I even had one friend tell me on Facebook that I should get Eerdmans to edit Noll’s blurb to remove the word “legitimate.”

Frankly, I think Noll’s blurb nails it.  (After all, he read the book.  None of the critics have seen it).  Evangelicals do have “legitimate” concerns. They have also responded to those concerns, as Noll writes, in very unhealthy ways.

I thought about all of this again this morning as I read Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal column.  She writes:

We discuss motives, but isn’t it always the same motive? “I have murder in my heart.” Why do so many Americans have murder in their hearts?

That is my question after the St. Valentine’s Day shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. We all know it is part of a continuing cultural catastrophe. A terrible aspect of the catastrophe is that so many central thoughts about it, and questions, have been flattened by time into clichés. People stop hearing when you mention them. “We talked about that during Columbine, didn’t we? That couldn’t be it.”

So we immediately revert to discussions of gun law, and only gun law. There is much to be improved in that area—I offer a suggestion at the end—but it is not the only part of the story. The story is also who we are now and what shape we’re in.

A way to look at the question is: What has happened the past 40 years or so to produce a society so ill at ease with itself, so prone to violence?

We know. We all say it privately, but it’s so obvious it’s hardly worth saying. We have been swept by social, technological and cultural revolution. The family blew up—divorce, unwed childbearing. Fatherless sons. Fatherless daughters, too. Poor children with no one to love them. The internet flourished. Porn proliferated. Drugs, legal and illegal. Violent videogames, in which nameless people are eliminated and spattered all over the screen. (The Columbine shooters loved and might have been addicted to “Doom.”) The abortion regime settled in, with its fierce, endless yet somehow casual talk about the right to end a life. An increasingly violent entertainment culture—low, hypersexualized, full of anomie and weirdness, allergic to meaning and depth. The old longing for integration gave way to a culture of accusation—you are a supremacist, a misogynist, you are guilty of privilege and defined by your color and class, we don’t let your sort speak here.

So much change, so much of it un-gentle. Throughout, was anyone looking to children and what they need? That wasn’t really a salient aim or feature of all the revolutions, was it? The adults were seeing to what they believed were their rights. Kids were a side thought.

At this moment we are in the middle of a reckoning about how disturbed our sexual landscape has become. This past week we turned to violence within marriages. We recently looked at the international sex trade, a phrase that sounds so 18th-century but refers to a real and profitable business.

All this change, compressed into 40 years, has produced some good things, even miraculous ones. But it does not feel accidental that America is experiencing what appears to be a mental-health crisis, especially among the young. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported as many as 20% of children 3 to 17 have, in any given year, a mental or emotional illness. There is research indicating depression among teenagers is worsening. National Public Radio recently quoted a 2005 report asserting the percentage of prison inmates with serious mental illness rose from less than 1% in 1880 to 21% in 2005. Deinstitutionalization swept health care and the psychiatric profession starting in the 1960s, and has continued since. The sick now go to the emergency room or stay among us untreated. In the society we have created the past 40 years, you know we are not making fewer emotionally ill young people, but more.

Not everyone will agree with me, but I do think Noonan addresses “legitimate concerns.”  The issue, as I see it, is less about the diagnosis of the problem and more about how to respond to it.  As I argue in Believe Me, Trump is not the answer.   Read the book and decide whether I am right–both about the “legitimate concerns” and about Trump as the answer.  And don’t forget to pre-order here.  🙂

Believe Me JPEG

An Evangelical in His Natural Habitat

Today a religious studies professor at a university told me that he was treating my forthcoming book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump as a “primary source” for his own study of American evangelicalism.  Fair enough,.

I told him that my next book is going to be a study of religious studies professors at universities who study evangelicalism.  Maybe I can use him as a primary source.

It made me think of this classic Twilight Zone episode:

Is Donald Trump a New Cyrus or a “Baby Christian?”

Believe Me JPEGDonald Trump will address the 66th annual National Prayer Breakfast today.  Last night I read a Voice of America piece on the event.  This piece triggered a few thoughts.

It seems that Trump’s evangelical supporters approach his presidency in one of two ways.

First, there is the “King Cyrus” crowd.  These are the court evangelicals who believe that God appointed Trump to deliver evangelicals from secular forces trying to undermine America’s status as God’s chosen people.  In the Old Testament, Cyrus was the Persian King who freed the Jews from captivity and allowed them to return to Jerusalem.  Cyrus was a pagan.  Yet God used him.  In this scenario, Trump does not need to be a Christian or exemplify Christian character for him to play a providential role in human history.  Those who embrace this view believe that they have a firm grasp on the will of God or else they claim that God has given them special revelation.

Second, there is the “baby Christian” crowd.  These are court evangelicals who believe that Donald Trump had a born-again experience.  He is a “baby Christian” who is still growing in his faith.  We should thus understand his blunders and anti-Christian statements and policies as part of this spiritual growth.  Moreover, his past sins have been forgiven and we should now give him a second chance–a “mulligan‘ if you will–because God offers sinners “second chances” through the Gospel.

Here is a third option:  Trump is not a new Cyrus or a “baby Christian.”  He is a political opportunist who is using the court evangelicals to sustain power.

I have done my best to interpret the evangelical support of Trump in my forthcoming book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

 

The *Believe Me* Table of Contents

Believe Me JPEG

I don’t think this will change between now and late Spring when Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump appears in print.

Introduction

Chapter One:  The Politics of Fear

Chapter Two:  The Playbook

Chapter Three: A Short History of Evangelical Fear

Chapter Four: Power Brokers: The Court Evangelicals

Chapter Five: “Make America Great Again”: Nostalgia for the Past

Conclusion

Don’t forget to pre-order!

Barack Obama’s “Weariness” With Evangelical Political Engagement

WearCheck 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.

“Who would now identify conservative Christian political engagement with the pursuit of the common good?”

Believe Me JPEGEugene Scott of The Washington Post believes that evangelicals continue to “apply moral relativism with Trump.”  I have a lot to say about this topic, but I don’t want to give too much away.  My book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump will be here in a few months.  (Thanks for pre-ordering)

Here is a taste of Scott:

Winning the White House has always been important to evangelicals. But historically, winning people to the Christian faith has taken higher priority. To some within the tribe, it appears the former has replaced the latter.

The Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, a leading evangelical, recently wrote:

“At the Family Research Council’s recent Values Voter Summit, the religious right effectively declared its conversion to Trumpism.

Who would now identify conservative Christian political engagement with the pursuit of the common good? Rather, the religious right is an interest group seeking preference and advancement from a strongman — and rewarding him with loyal acceptance of his priorities. The prophets have become clients. The priests have become acolytes.”

Read the entire piece here, including Scott’s take on Franklin Graham.

We Have a Title!

trump-with-evangelical-leaders

Yesterday I was at Calvin College to try out some of the material from my forthcoming book on Donald Trump.  A lot of smart people at Calvin gave me a lot of things to think about as I wrap-up the manuscript.  Thanks to Kristin Kobes Du Mez of the Calvin College History Department and Kevin Den Dulk of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics for inviting me to speak.

At the start of my lecture I announced the book’s title:

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

Let me know what you think.  The book will be out with Eerdmans in the Spring.

Here is how I closed my lecture at Calvin:

When Donald Trump speaks to his followers in the mass rallies that have now become a fixture of his populist brand, he loves to use the phrase “believe me.”  The internet is filled with video montages of Trump using this signature catch phrase.  (He says it even more than “Make America great again!”):

            “Believe me folks, we’re building the wall, believe me, believe, me, we’re building the wall.”

“I love women.  Believe me, I love women.  I love women. And you know what else, I have great respect for women, believe me.”

“I am the least, the least racist person that you’ve ever met, believe me.”

“The world is in trouble, but we’re going to straighten it out, OK.  That’s what I do. I fix things.  We’re going to straighten it out, believe me.”

And, perhaps most importantly:

“So let me state this right up front, [in] a Trump administration our Christian heritage will be cherished, protected, defended, like you’ve never seen before. Believe me.”

Why do the the court evangelicals and their followers believe in Donald Trump?  They believe in this man because fear paralyzes them, power seduces them, and nostalgia blinds them.  Donald Trump will be gone in 2021 or 2025.  Let’s pray that he does not take the evangelical church with him.